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Tue, Jun 03, 2008 - Page 10 News List

Brazil to defend biofuels at UN summit in Rome

AGENCIES , ROME AND SAO PAULO, BRAZIL

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva holds samples of biofuel produced from sugar cane bagasse during a visit to the Petrobras Development and Research Center on Oct. 26 last year.

PHOTO: AFP

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Sunday he would seek to convince world leaders gathering in Rome this week that ethanol is not to blame for global food inflation threatening millions with hunger.

Brazil is the world’s largest ethanol exporter and a pioneer in sugar-cane based biofuels, making it a target of critics who say ethanol is behind increases in world commodity prices.

Lula said the UN summit on food security which begins today would give Latin America’s biggest economy an opportunity to shape the debate about biofuels — and hopefully win over some skeptics.

“This gathering that the [UN Food and Agriculture Organization] is promoting will be a great opportunity for Brazil,” Lula told reporters in Rome ahead of the event.

“I’m convinced that we’re at the beginning a debate … It’s up to Brazil, a center of excellence in ethanol production, to prove that it’s fully possible to make ethanol output compatible with the production of food,” he said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has set up his own task force to find answers to the food security crisis, was expected to hold private talks with Lula in Rome yesterday.

The leaders of France, Spain, Japan, Argentina and some African nations are attending.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also expected.

Most of the anti-biofuel ire has been aimed at US production of maize-based ethanol which has diverted large quantities of that staple into fuel.

Critics say in Brazil, the production of ethanol is pushing cattle ranchers and farmers deeper into the Amazon rainforest.

Lula rejected such claims and said countries in Europe and elsewhere had no right to make policy suggestions on the Amazon.

Lula said Brazil was proof that countries did not need to choose between food and fuel, because Brazil, which produces more biofuel also produces more food.

The WWF estimates that demand for ethanol will reach 100 billion liters by 2012, and that the US, the biggest producer, will provide 42 percent of that.

Gasoline consumption, by way of comparison, was 1.24 trillion liters in 2005.

Currently, the US produces 28 billion liters of ethanol, followed by Brazil with 22 billion liters.

The WWF did note, however, that sugarcane fields tended to occupy areas once given over to cattle-raising, and even though it rated that factor as insignificant, it did warn that some ancillary effect of displaced ranchers moving into the Amazon, contributing to deforestation, could occur.

Eduardo Leao, the executive director of the Unica federation covering the sugarcane industry, said ethanol production uses just 1 percent of Brazil’s total arable land.

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