Monday, October 28, 2013

New paper says biofuels will cause high food price inflation, but don't worry, you'll eat less as a result

A paper published today in Global Environmental Change finds biofuel production will cause a significant increase in future food prices, especially in the US. The authors predict that high food price inflation due to producing biofuels in the US will lead to fewer calories consumed [aka more people starving], but says nonetheless CO2 "emissions per calorie [will increase] slightly in all three countries [US, China, Brazil]." This begs the question, why do we burn our food?

Prior posts on biofuels

The impact of biofuel-induced food-price inflation on dietary energy demand and dietary greenhouse gas emissions

  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Department of Social and Environmental Health Research, 15-17 Tavistock Place, London, WC1H 9SH, United Kingdom


Biofuel production is predicted to increase future food prices.
We estimated associated changes to dietary energy demand and dietary GHG emissions.
[Dietary] Energy demand decreased in all three countries (Brazil, China and the USA).
But diets became more GHG intense per unit food and energy demanded.
Results suggest net changes in dietary GHG emissions only in the USA (a reduction).


Dramatic increases in liquid biofuel production have led to concerns about associated impacts on food prices, with many modeling studies showing significant biofuel-related price inflation. In turn, by changing patterns of food demand, biofuel production may indirectly influence greenhouse gas emissions. We estimated changes to dietary energy (calorie) demand and greenhouse gas emissions embodied in average diets under different biofuel-related food-price scenarios for Brazil, China and the United States, using food-price projections and food-price elasticities. Average [dietary] energy demand decreased in all countries, from about 40 kcal per person per day in Brazil under a moderate price inflation scenario – a reduction of 1% relative to the (2009) reference scenario – to nearly 300 [kcal] per day in the United States with high price inflation – almost 8% of reference levels. However, emissions per calorie increased slightly in all three countries. In terms of total greenhouse gas emissions, the results are suggestive of overall reductions only in the United States, where average reductions ranged from about 40 to 110 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per person per year. In China, the direction of impact is unclear, but the net change is likely to be small. Brazilian results were sensitive to parameter values and the direction and magnitude of impact is therefore uncertain. Despite the uncertainty, even small changes (positive or negative) in individual dietary emissions can produce large changes at the population level, arguing for the inclusion of the dietary pathway in greenhouse gas accounting of liquid biofuels.

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