Breaking the Link between Food and Biofuels

Bruce A. Babcock
July 2008  [08-BP 53]

Production of biofuels from feedstocks that are diverted from food production or that are grown on land that could grow crops has two important drawbacks: higher food prices and decreased reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. If U.S. policy were to change and place greater emphasis on food prices and greenhouse gas reductions, then we would transition away from current feedstocks toward those that do not reduce our ability to produce food. Examples of such feedstocks include crop residues, algae, municipal waste, jatropha grown on degraded land, and by-products of edible oil production. Policy options that would encourage use of these alternative feedstocks include placing a hard cap on ethanol and biodiesel production that comes from corn and refined vegetable oil, thereby forcing growth in biofuel production to come from alternative feedstocks; differentiation of tax credits and subsidies so that the alternative feedstocks receive a higher incentive than do corn and refined vegetable oil; and greatly increased funding for research to hasten the feasibility of producing and refining alternative feedstocks.

Keywords: biofuels, feedstocks, food prices, policy.

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