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Dutch official wary of biofuels impact on food supplies

November 13 2007

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Policymakers should be cautious of biofuels' effect on food costs, Dutch Agriculture Minister Gerda Verburg said, emphasizing the need to develop new non-food raw materials.

First-generation biofuels are usually made from crops such as grains and vegetable oils but have raised concerns that they are driving up food prices and could lead to shortages.

Many see the solution as so-called second generation biofuels which are not yet commercially viable but involve the breaking down of non-edible crops such as fast growing grasses or trees by enzymes to eventually create liquid motor fuel.

"We need the experience (of first generation biofuels) but we have to be cautious," Verburg said in an interview with Reuters on Monday.

"If biofuels production is stimulated and we do not care about the relation between production for food or for biofuels, we are increasing a problem: namely hunger and poverty."

Earlier this year, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said biofuels were one of the main drivers for projected food price hikes of 20-50 percent by 2016.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food recently described it as a "crime against humanity" to convert food crops to fuel, though some industry leaders have hit back, saying the concerns are exaggerated.

Verburg said she hoped the focus could shift to forms of biofuels that are not made out of food crops.

"We try to put emphasis on moving towards second generation biofuels and we hope we can move on to that soon," she said.
"We have to invest in biofuels but we have to make sure that we do not produce for biofuels when producing for food is needed. And it must be done in a sustainable way."

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