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Biofuels, climate change and GM crops: who is really benefiting?

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R. Harbinson
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Biofuels are attracting increased attention and investment as an alternative to fossil-based fuels and a means of combating climate change, yet there are many critics. This one-page briefing explores some of the concerns surrounding biofuels and the limitations posed by large-scale biofuel production.
Key points highlighted include the following:

ambitious targets held by industrialised nations have placed demands on developing countries to provide crops for biofuel, especially maize
it is not clear whether developing nations can benefit from large-scale biofuel production as growing crops for biofuel can take up land and water currently used for domestic food production and as a result, can drive up prices of crop staples.
biofuels have limitations as a source of  “clean” energy
there are many concerns about the use of genetically modified (GM) bacteria and enzymes to break down plant waste and convert it to biofuels are particularly prominent.

The authors conclude that, before trying to meet global fuel demands via biofuel production in developing countries, the governments in each country must first answer the following questions:

Will the biofuel industry in developing countries support local energy needs,or just meet the demands of richer nations?
Will biofuel crops displace domestic food production?
Are there laws and controls in place to track any GM organisms used to produce biofuels?
Has there been any public discussion about GM crops, and which issues do people consider the most important?
What limits are there to ensure that expanding the area of cultivated land does not damage natural ecosystems?