International and Australian farm policy news

Biofuels unsustainable

German researchers are claiming that European biofuel production is unsustainable and fails to show a greenhouse gas emissions saving of 35%, compared to conventional fossil fuels. The ‘unsustainable’ nature of biofuels could undermine the EU’s plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2017 and produce 50% of its energy from biomass sources by 2020.

If the EU is to be successful in meeting its 2020 energy target, significant investment is required to develop new biodiesel feedstocks, such as weeds and waste stems, and find ways to produce biomass that does not require additional land clearing.

The UN has also accused biofuel production of pushing up world food prices and exacerbating the effect of the US drought. The US has not backed away from its ethanol mandate, which stipulates 40% of corn production is for biodiesel. The FAO is concerned another food crisis, like 2008, could be triggered.

In a policy U-turn, the EU has proposed new rules to reduce the 2020 biofuel emissions target and is an indirect admission that the 2020 biofuel target was too optimistic. The new rules also propose to end public subsidies for crop-based biofuels after the current legislation expires in 2020.

Under the proposed rules, biofuel from crop sources would be limited to 5% of total energy consumption in the transport sector in 2020. Crop based biofuels currently account for about 4.5% of transport energy consumption.

Organic food claims questioned

Organic food is often perceived to have positive health impacts and be more environmentally friendly. Following a meta-analysis of peer reviewed papers, Stanford researchers have found no real difference in nutritive benefit, apart from a higher concentration of phosphorus in organic food.

Oxford researchers have also found that organics’ practices are not necessarily better for the environment because they often require more land for the same quantity of product, even if they consume less energy. Researchers found organically produced milk, cereal and pork generate the same quantity of greenhouse gas per unit of production as conventional products. Researchers specifically pointed out that an organic label does not guarantee an environmentally friendly product.

US country of origin labelling

The WTO recently declared the US food labelling provisions in violation of global trade law and discriminatory against imported meat products. The WTO said the labelling requirements themselves are legal, however the way the rules are administered unfairly make beef and pork imports from Canada and Mexico more expensive to produce. The USA Foundation, the Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund–United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) and a meat and vegetable distributor have filed suit against the WTO and the US Government in a bid to retain the US Country of Origin Labeling Act (COOL). It is the third suit against the WTO.

R-CALF USA the second largest US cattlemen’s association, does not consider COOL as a trade barrier of any kind and believes it fulfils consumers’ demand for information. Both the USA foundation and R-CALF USA say US laws prevail in any trade conflicts between the US and other countries.

French GMO research insufficient

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that a recent paper raising concerns about the potential toxicity of genetically modified (GM) maize and Roundup herbicide is of insufficient scientific quality to be considered as valid for risk assessment.

The French study found rats fed a diet containing NK603 – a maize seed variety doused with Roundup – or given water with Roundup at levels permitted in the US, died earlier than those on a standard diet. The rats suffered mammary tumours, as well as severe liver and kidney damage with 50% of male and 70% of female rats dying prematurely, compared with only 30% and 20% in the control group.

EFSA’s review said the study’s analysis was of insufficient scientific quality for safety assessments. The study had unclear objectives, inadequate design, analysis and reporting.

Keep up-to-date with discussion on current issues in Australian and international agriculture policy via the Ag Forum on the Institute website.

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