GLOBE-Net, October 10, 2012 - During
the recently concluded World Water Week Conference in Stockholm,
Paul Bulcke (pictured left), President and CEO of Nestlé, the
world's largest food company, voiced his company's concerns
regarding the continuing use of food crops for biofuel
"No to Food for Fuel," is the company's policy
stance, one that other large food corporations and some governments
are beginning to consider seriously.
One of the chief concerns Bulcke expressed about
using food crops as feedstock for biofuels stems from global water
shortages and the impact on food prices from diverting food
producing acreage to biofuels production.
According to Nestlé, growing and harvesting
crops to be used as fuel not only is a waste of food, but also a
waste of water. This was also the consensus of the Stockholm
isn't given a value, people tend to waste it. Water is our most
useful resource, but those using it often don't even cover the
costs of its infrastructure." Paul Bulcke, President and CEO
Nestlé argues there are more efficient ways to
produce biofuels, such as using food waste or other non-food
biomass. The company advocates the responsible use of water and
suggests the use of agricultural wastage is a more sustainable
For large food corporations such as Nestlé
(beyond ethical and sustainability matters) the direct competition
between the food and the energy sectors for raw materials and for
water is another concern.
Several studies on the use of farmland for fuel
have confirmed crop wastes and other cellulosic materials such as
palm-oil byproducts are just as effective as a fuel source.
Animal wastage, algae or municipal solid waste also
are potential sources for ethanol extraction and, if used on a
larger scale, offer a solution to the problem of industries
competing for the same raw materials.
Roughly 40% of American corn production is now
used to create biofuels, due in large to government subsidies and
higher returns from the energy sector.
A similar situation exists in Europe, leading
the EU Commission to admit recently there has been too much
government support for biofuel production. As EU Energy
Commissioner Gunther Oettinger points out, as alternative biofuel
production technologies become more competitive, subsidies have to
Concerned about resource shortages and rising
food prices, Nestlé has lobbied both EU and US governments to lower
their biofuel quotas. The EU Commission is now working on plans to
lower its biofuels use target by 5%.
Biofuels are not delivering on GHG Emission
Adding to the already complex set of factors
influencing the food versus fuel debate are recent findings that
the extensive use of biofuels is not delivering the greenhouse gas
emissions reductions once hoped for. Recent studies conducted by
German scientists, for example, suggest that biodiesel use in
Europe has not lived up to its emission reduction target of 35
This is highly problematic considering the large
amounts of subsidies that have been paid by governments for the
production of what is billed as more environmentally friendly
alternative fuel source.
Overall, the food versus fuel issue is far from
clear. Numerous conflicting assessments have yet to confirm the
direct link between biofuels production and rising prices for
foodstuffs. Many other factors contribute to the rise in food
prices, such as increased energy costs, and bad harvests due to
drought conditions that have plagued both European and North
American agricultural production.
is being massively overused at nature's expense, but it seems only
a global crisis will make us realise the importance of the
issue." Paul Bulcke, Nestlé's Chief Executive
Nonetheless, governments and corporations in
Europe and North America are sensitive to the impact that the using
food crops for biofuels could have on prices, and research into the
use of second-generation feedstocks for more sustainable biofuel
production has become widespread.
Apart from lower biofuel targets set by
governments, reducing water intensity in farming will also play an
important role in shaping future policies.
Nestlé's clear stance against Food for Fuel during the
World Water Conference is being reflected in the EU Commission's
efforts to use non-food feedstock for fuel production.
The EU declared in its goal for 2020 is the need to
avoid biofuels which are either in competition with food or require
additional land. This plan also tackles the issue of water wastage
and increases the chances for a more sustainable biofuel
Nathalie Millauer is a part-time intern pursuing
her Interdisciplinary Master's degree in North American
Studies at the University of Bonn in Germany. Her internship,
while in Vancouver, is focussed on public relations in the
area of food security, food policy, sustainability and the green