Testimony of Pat Mooney
Executive Director of ETC Group
Before the Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources-regarding Bill C-33 (the "Biofuels Bill")
Senate of Canada
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Thank you. I will begin by confessing that I am not an expert on biofuels. I feel as though my life has been hijacked by biofuels over the last few months.
I know something about food security or global food and agriculture issues. I guess
that is why I have an opportunity to appear before you today and I appreciate being
Maybe I should say the issue of biofuels has been a bit of a shock for me. I have
been in three international meetings in the last few months where the topic was not
biofuels but, suddenly, the whole international discussion became biofuels. One
meeting was a major conference that took place on agriculture biodiversity that was
held in Bonn, Germany, in May. It was a two-week conference, known officially as
Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) or COP 9,
which Canada hosts in Montreal, though the meeting was in Germany.
The entire debate turned out to be about biofuels and whether they were good or
bad for the environment and whether they were good or bad for energy issues, even.
Certainly, a major concern expressed by governments there was that biofuels were a
real problem for food security.
However, that was a biodiversity convention meeting. I went right from the Bonn
meetings to the World Food Summit held in Rome at the beginning of June. Biofuels
and bio-energy were on the agenda. There were three topics, including, first and
foremost, the food crisis and how that links to bio-energy issues and climate change.
It was a large summit with 181 countries present. It became hijacked by the fight
over whether biofuels were good or bad for food security and for the environment. I
felt to such an extent that other issues were not addressed. The other really important
questions around that, especially the issue around climate change, were not discussed.
I was more surprised in an earlier meeting in April. I was invited by a major
conference called BioVision that is held every year. It is a global meeting of scientists;
about 2,000 scientists come together every year. There is a strong industry and
government representation in it to look at the current state of play of biotechnology. I
was invited to speak about nanotechnology, not about biofuels or biotech. However,
again, at this global meeting of 2,000 scientists, the only resolution that was finally
passed at the end of the conference – in a conference that does not allow resolutions –
was a resolution that opposed biofuels. There was such a range of scientists and
political actors at the table that I was astonished that biofuels became the topic.
I would urge the Senate to delay a decision here and spend more time looking at
this issue. I think the scene is changing day by day and week by week. There is a new
report we have seen a draft of coming out of the U.K. that was released to the
Guardian a couple of days ago. It will be out either tomorrow or it might be delayed
until next Monday. Apparently, it will force a major change in the U.K.'s position on
biofuels. We are hearing of other reports all along the way being developed by the
World Bank or by Food and Agriculture Organization. I am on one committee itself
that FAO has organized on this issue that will have a meeting on the topic next year.
I think the scene is changing and it is important not to rush into an issue where, at
the end of the day, when you look at ways out from who is on which side on the topic,
that is changing itself. Neither side seems to be able to deliver a sort of knockout blow
that says, "Here is the clear evidence, the absolute proof, that this is really good for us;
this will be beneficial."
You would think that, after all of these years and discussion and experimentation in
Brazil and in Canada and the West, as well, if there was a clear knockout case to be
made for biofuels, it would have been made and we would know. We would not be
arguing whether it is a ratio of 1.2 to 1 or 1.25 to 1; that kind of discussion would be
resolved. It is not. It continues to appear in the press and scientific journals
That should worry us.
At the biodiversity convention meetings in Germany, we had this strange feeling
that all of Africa as a block was asking for a moratorium against any development of
biofuels. They were saying, "Please go no further." They are asking for an end to
subsidies in Europe. On the other side, we had the European Union – 27 countries –
that wanted to change their position. We talked to them individually. They wanted to
shift from supporting biofuels but they could not. Brussels, as a group, had made the
decision months before for the negotiations and they could not turn the ship around
One country after the other is saying they know it is a problem and they know they
have to address this.
Africa is the hungry continent; the continent for whom it was a problem. The world
is saying to them that this is an industry that they can develop and take to their hearts
as Africans. Africa is saying, "We do not want this. We do not trust how this will play
out for us."
Everyone basically ignored Africa. It was Brazil, the United States, Canada and the
European Union that pushed through their position. Even then, with enormous caveats
saying, "We are not so sure about this; it needs to be studied more" and so on.
However, they did not agree to the moratorium.
The same situation arose at the World Food Summit. We had Brazil, the United
States and the biofuels industry as the protagonists and Europe on the other side that
after a week of gaining more experience and developing more uncertainty becoming
rather quiet on the topic, not wanting to push too hard on the issue.
Again, Africa was saying they did not want this. It was dangerous for them and is a
great risk for their food security. They did not want anyone to go in that direction.
I was invited by the FAO to debate the issue with British Petroleum and the former
President of Niger to discuss the range of issues for governments. Three points stood
out in the debate. I would suggest these three points should be looked at by the Senate
committee and, I hope, by the Canadian public very broadly.
First is that we always tend to want to say we are only doing something for our
country. It will only be for Canada or Brazil and will not have an impact beyond that.
Having dealt with agricultural commodities for the last 40 years, I find that
remarkable. There is never a time when what we decide to do about agriculture in
Canada does not affect the rest of the world. There is always a knock-on effect from
what Canada does in wheat, corn or canola production, et cetera that affects global
food prices and stocks and who grows what where.
I talked to a colleague from Paraguay a few days ago who told me that soybean
production is moving into the forest lands in Paraguay. Soybeans are not used for
biofuels; therefore, I could not see the connection. She answered that the connection is
that corn is being grown in the old soybean producing areas for biofuels and soybeans
are being pushed into the forest areas.
Those kinds of links and connections are happening around the world and they can
have an enormous impact. Unless we can be assured that the unimaginable has
happened, that is, we can isolate Canadian agriculture from the rest of the world,
whatever we decide in Canada regarding fuel and food crops, it will have an impact on
the rest of the world and an impact on food prices.
Looking at the arguments about pricing in the world's food supply and how much of
it is influenced by biofuels or other factors, look at who is saying what on this topic.
On one side, you have the United States government and the fuel industry saying only
2 per cent or 3 per cent of the increase in prices can be traced back to biofuels. On the
other side you have the IMF, the International Food Policy Research Institute which is
supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research affiliated
with the World Bank and the World Bank themselves saying that biofuels impact on
food prices is 30 per cent and up to 65 per cent under some conditions.
I do not understand why the World Bank and the IMF would bite the hand that
feeds it in regard to the United States government if it did not have to. They are saying
those things because they have a point. Biofuels are a major impact on food prices.
Logic says that you look at who is saying these things and what are their interests. I
do not see what interest the IMF and the World Bank have not to try to support to the
United States. Basically, they could not because biofuels have a large impact.
The second issue is that of climate change.
We see ourselves in a food emergency, which will last for decade by all
considerations. It is not only a year or two. It will last for the next 10 or 20 years.
Within that time frame, we know there is this food emergency and we know that
food stocks are the lowest they have been in decades. However, we also know that
climate change is coming and we do not know what will happen to food production
because of climate change.
A few days ago I heard remarkable testimony here from industry representatives
suggesting that there is much more land available. They said the FAO suggests there
is all this land we can use. That is true if you cut down all the forests and get rid of the
protected areas, national parks and the tsetse fly in Sudan. Then there is land.
Otherwise the land is used. It is not there.
We simply do not know what will happen with crop production in the years ahead.
When I was in Rome at the World Food Summit, I was shown data by the FAO saying
that by 2030 -- in 20 years time -- corn or maize will not be grown in Africa as a crop.
It simply cannot be grown because conditions will make it untenable. Yields will drop
so low that there will be no point in growing maize. Currently, that is their major
In regard to the Canadian Prairies, I was in Saskatchewan a few weeks ago. People
there were telling me that the bottom half of the province will be a dust bowl.
When someone says do not worry, we have extra land and opportunities here, we
do not know what will happen with climate change. Therefore, to impose upon an
extraordinarily fragile food security situation by adding a whole new factor is simply
incredibly risky and dangerous. It is a new pressure that we will not be able to reverse
once it is established because the demand in the industry will be structured for it.
We must be sure what we are doing because if we are not sure, people will starve.
The estimate now is that we have 100 million more people who are hungry in the
world than we had 6 months ago. Some estimates indicate that it will increase to
290 million more hungry people by the end of this year.
To add to that pressure and to throw the factor of biofuels into this equation does
not make sense to me.
Whether it is at scientific or biodiversity conferences or the World Food Summit,
there seems to be a consensus emerging that the current situation is not good.
Generation one biofuels do not work very well, but we should not worry because
generation two biofuels are coming down the road. We can relax because that will
take care of all the problems for us.
I have some worries about that. It was interesting to hear the industry
representatives here talk about how you can convert rubbish and algae into fuel.
Without question, that is very interesting. It is absolutely fascinating. I hope it works,
but we do not know for sure that it will.
That is not what is being done now. We are talking about the land area in corn and
canola production, which is the big issue. It was unusual to have an industry lobbyist
present to you what is not happening yet. He did not talk to you about what is
happening, which is about corn, canola and sugar cane production around the world
today. This is where the impact will be for the next 15 to 20 years. The scientists and
governments I talk to about these generation two biofuel developments believe that
commercial yields -- if the process works at all -- are that far down the road.
We will continue to have the current problem of taking biofuels from major food
crops for a long time to come. This will all occur in the context of the current food
emergency and climate change.
Is that rational, then, to assume generation two biofuels will come? I cannot
imagine that it is. It does not make sense to me that we rely on this theoretical thing
that we are not quite sure what it will be exactly. Will it be an enzyme manufactured
that will gobble up cellulosic fibre? Will it be restructuring of the corn plant itself so
the stalk is more consumable as is being developed in California?
There are several possibilities. No one can put their finger on which it will be, how
it will work and what its impact will be. However, let us trust it, let us have faith and
pie in the sky when we die. That does not make sense.
How can we do this to ourselves? I have sat through and been part of many food
summits over the decades. I have heard these forecasts not to worry, hunger will not
be a problem in the future and we will take care of that. I was in high school in
Winnipeg in the 1960s, when I heard John F. Kennedy say we have the means and the
capacity to wipe hunger and poverty from the face of our earth in our lifetime; we need
only the will. He was wrong. It did not happen.
I was at the World Food Summit in Rome in 1974, which was a very political
summit during the last food crisis, and heard Henry Kissinger say that within 10 years
no child will go to bed hungry. That is not true. That did not happen.
I was at the World Food Summit in 1996 in Rome when our government joined
other governments in saying that by the year 2015 we will have half the number of
hungry people we have today. It was to go down to 415 million from 830 million.
Today, the number of hungry people is 862 million. It has gone up, not down.
The estimate is that by the year 2020, there will be 1.2 billion people who are
hungry on this planet. Instead of reducing the number by half, we will increase the
number of people who are hungry by one-and-a-half times.
I have heard governments say for a long time that they will solve the problem of
world hunger, that there is lots of land, that they will increase crop yields or that they
will take care of the water problem. It has never happened.
What has happened is that energy consumption has increased and the hungry have
increased in numbers during that time. I would like to see proof that what is being
decided today, perhaps by the Senate, will truly be something that will not impede
upon the health and well-being of that 1.2 billion people who are becoming hungry.
I doubt that will happen. I worry that we will grab at straws and hope our usage of
fossil fuels will be reduced by 0.65 per cent or 0.7 per cent by the biofuels industry
because of this bill. It is so marginal. We could reduce fossil fuels that amount by
simply slowing down our cars by one mile per hour. Yet, it would cost $2.2 billion to
do it in terms of the bill. Pumping up our tires could have the same effect without
costing that kind of money.
With this bill, we would be setting in place the infrastructure and an industry that
will not get rid of the problem in 5 or 10 years. It will still be there. If Saskatchewan
or Alberta were to dry up and could not produce the required yields, the infrastructure
would disappear and we would have to turn to California or Brazil or Indonesia. Some
of the governments in Africa at the food summit said to us, please do not do this.
The press release is available here:
Update: Bill C-33 was passed in the Canadian Senate on June 26, 2008.