GENEVA Diverting sugar and maize for biofuels
could lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths from hunger
worldwide, the United Nations' food envoy warned on Thursday.
Jean Ziegler, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food,
accused the European Union (EU), Japan and the United States of
"total hypocrisy" for promoting biofuels to cut their own
dependency on imported oil.
Fears over climate change have boosted the demand for
alternative fuels in wealthy countries, but the rise of biofuel
has been criticized by some who say it will put a squeeze on
land needed for food.
"There is a great danger for the right to food by the
development of biofuels," Ziegler told a news briefing held on
the sidelines of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
"It (the price) will be paid perhaps by hundreds of
thousands of people who will die from hunger," he added.
However, a senior official at the U.N. Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) said recently that biofuels were getting a
bad press and that rather than being a threat to the poor, they
could boost food production.
Ziegler said that more and more sugar cane plantations in
northern and eastern Brazil were being used for biofuels,
leaving less land for subsistence farmers.
Brazil is the world's biggest producer of cane-based fuel
ethanol, most of which is destined for the domestic market to
meet rapidly growing demand from flex-fuel motorists.
In some regions of Mexico, the price of maize rose by 16
percent last year, because of rising demand for use in
biofuels, according to the independent U.N. envoy.
"I can understand the Brazilian and Mexican policies which
as very indebted countries want to earn hard currency....But
from the point of view of the right to food, which must be the
decisive one, it is a catastrophe," Ziegler said.
Some 854 million people worldwide -- or one in six --
suffer from hunger, according to the sociologist and former
Swiss parliamentarian who cited U.N. figures.
Ziegler said famine and chronic hunger were driving many in
sub-Saharan Africa to risk their lives on rickety boats bound
for Europe, often Spain's Canary Islands or Lampedusa, Italy.
An estimated 2 million people try to enter the European
Union (EU) illegally every year, and about 2,000 of them drown
in the Mediterranean Sea, he said.
"Nobody knows how many thousands of other people have died
trying to make the journey, but bodies regularly wash up on the
beaches or fishermen catch them in their nets," he said.
Ziegler called for Western countries to grant so-called
"refugees from hunger" a temporary right of asylum. This would
require amending a 1951 U.N. convention granting refugee status
to people fleeing racial, political or religious persecution.