Brazil’s president defends biofuels

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has rejected allegations that biofuels are responsible for the recent rise in global food prices. He said food had become more expensive because people in developing countries were gaining greater access to it. Mr Lula was speaking at a conference of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Brasilia.

A chorus of opposition to bio-fuels has been growing in different parts of the world in recent months. Environmental groups, government ministers and even world leaders like President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela have all voiced their concerns that the use of crops like sugar-cane and corn to make fuel for cars could lead to a serious food crisis.

Critics claim biofuels are also partly responsible for the recent rise in global food prices. And Jean Ziegler, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Food Rights and a Swiss national, has described biofuel production as a crime against humanity.

President Lula, whose country is the world’s largest exporter of biofuels such as ethanol, said it was easy for someone sitting in Switzerland to preach to Brazil.

He said allegations that global food prices were rising because of biofuels were baseless.

“Biofuels aren’t the villain that threatens food security,” said President Lula. “On the contrary… they can pull countries out of energy dependency without affecting foods.”

Food prices were going up, he said, because people in developing countries like China, India and Brazil itself were simply eating more as their economic conditions improved.The president has signed several important cooperation deals with the US, another leading biofuels producer, as well as with several African countries, to work together to improve production.

The battle against biofuels has united a dichotomous group ranging from environmental activists to the leaders of some of the world’s largest oil producing countries.