From: Claudia Parsons, Reuters
Published October 26, 2007 04:09 PM

U.N. Food Expert Seeks Moratorium on Biofuels

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food called on Friday for a five-year moratorium on biofuels, saying it was a "crime against humanity" to convert food crops to fuel.

Biofuels are driving up food prices at a time when there are 854 million hungry people in the world and every five seconds a child under 10 dies from hunger or disease related to malnutrition, Jean Ziegler said.

Fears over climate change have boosted the demand for alternative fuels, but the rise of biofuel has been criticized by some who say it squeezes land needed for food.

Ziegler said cereals prices had already soared, putting pressure on African states that have to import food.

"It's a crime against humanity to convert agriculturally productive soil into soil which is producing food stuff which will be burned into biofuel," he told a news conference.

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Ziegler, an independent expert who reports to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, conceded his call was a tall order. But he said that since the main countries leading the biofuels revolution, the United States and Brazil, were democracies, public opinion could lead to a change in policy.

A moratorium would allow scientists to develop ways to make biofuels from other crops, without diverting land from food production, he said, such as a pilot project in India using trees planted in arid areas unsuitable for food crops.

"The scientific world is progressing very quickly, in five years it will be possible to produce biofuel and biodiesel from agricultural waste," he said.

"There is hope in the scientific process. What has to be stopped is the transformation (of food crops) now, to stop the growing catastrophe of the massacre of hunger in the world."

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization has taken a more cautious stance on biofuels, warning about rising commodity prices but also suggesting bioenergy could be an opportunity for some developing countries, and could provide power in rural areas that lack electricity.

Ziegler said famine and chronic hunger were driving many in sub-Saharan Africa to risk their lives on rickety boats bound for Europe. He criticized European governments for choosing a "military" response rather than helping refugees.

"The EU is creating hunger in Africa through agricultural dumping," he said. "Agricultural products from Europe are exported to Africa through subsidies and the price is very low, much lower than African products on the African market."

He called for the amendment of a 1951 U.N. convention granting refugee status only to people fleeing racial, political or religious persecution. "I'm asking that a new human right be created in favor of these people," he said.

"Refugees from hunger, they don't have any international protection, so we have to create it."

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