I was looking at the NFU web site the other day to try to discover why the NFU, usually so strident about what Defra should do, is so silent at this time of potentially massive cuts to Defra.  I didn't find the answer but then something caught my eye which I could hardly believe - Red Tractor scheme proposed for biofuels.

What madness is this? If we grow wheat in the UK and use it to produce fuel then someone, somewhere else has to grow wheat for food consumption.  And that means that the likelihood of rainforest or grassland loss increases.  Losing those biodiversity-rich habitats also means losing carbon-rich habitats and nullifies for many years any potential greenhouse gas reductions.  If the UK were an island that produced all its own food and fuel then the trade-off between food and fuel would be very clear - the fact that we are a small part of a crowded planet makes it less clear, but no less real. 

NFU combinable crops board chairman Ian Backhouse said: “This new development will mean that the crops grown by participating farmers for biofuels come with a certification that demonstrates that the crops have been grown to sustainable standards and that the end fuel meets the strict guidelines set out by the EU. It also removes the need for a government or supply chain scheme being imposed on growers.

“The NFU has worked with AFS to ensure that existing systems can be used to provide additional information and the verification required and that the changes will not be time-consuming or costly for growers. The changes have been designed to have a minimal burden on farm as they utilise the existing strengths of the Red Tractor systems, and provide an easy system of recognition for farmers’ crops for these new and growing markets."

Everyone wants to be seen to be green - but just saying it doesn't make it true. 

Actually, this new development means nothing much about the sustainability of the crops because it has no impact on land use abroad - how could it?  The EU guidelines are weak and inadequate.  And similar mistakes are being made with EU standards and UK implementation on biomass use for electricity production.

The next time that the NFU talks about the need to feed the world we should remember that the NFU promotes a fundamentally flawed and unsustainable farming system in the UK where land that could grow food is used to grow fuel instead.  The net result is higher food prices, practically no carbon savings and terrible loss of biodiversity.

The Gallagher review of biofuels was rather weak in its conclusions but clearly stated that biofuel production must avoid agricultural land that produced food crops for the reasons given above.  Every time you fill your car up with fuel, petrol or diesel, you now are putting some biofuel into your tank - and you don't have any choice about it.

Today the Renewables Fuel Agency which regulates biofuels in the UK (and therefore illustrates the difference between renewable and sustainable) states that it is disappointed that the fuel industry is not meeting voluntary green standards.  The whole thing is a disaster for the planet and if it sounds as though it makes me mad - it does.

And I will carry on wondering why the NFU is so mute at a time when Defra is facing huge cuts which, presumably, could affect farming very fundamentally.

  • Very interesting Bob P. I don't know enough about biofuels to say how good or bad the stuff the train runs on is. What I do know is that biofuels made from crop waste are thought to be at least 10 years away and meanwhile terrible damage is being done.

    As you have already indicated, one problem is the name - bio sounds good. Another problem is the mainstream media and their shallow superficial reporting of the environment (and almost everything else!). Roger Harrabin's two recent climate change programmes on Radio 4 were fascinating. He revealed that his editor had banned him from going into detail on the uncertainties of climate modelling!

  • Think the P O W would have been better staying in bed,cost £500'000 for the trip.

  • Mark,  I have just be watching the midday news where the Prince of Wales will be travelling around the country promotiing sustainable living.  When criticised for the amount of miles travelled on the royal train, the response was that is was environmentally friendly because it runs on sustainable bio-fuel. To repeat my previous entry the public is consistently being told that bio-fuels are green and good for us.  It is very difficult for any group to get an alternative message across.

  • Savill's Agricultural Land Market Survey 2010 says that in the English eastern counties average prime-quality arable land increased in value by 12.5% in 2009. Not much evidence there of supermarket pressure. In any case, it would be nice to think that there are farmers all over Europe who don't want to get rich by ****ing the rest of the world.

  • If farmers don't get enough money for food from the Supermarkets can you blame them for making money from biofuel ?? Its their land and bills must be paid !