Food prices to soar in switch to biofuel production, says Unilever

Increased production of biofuels will lead to higher food prices and a negative impact on diet, Unilever, the UK’s biggest food producer has claimed.

According to the Times, Unilever vice-president Alan Jope, fears that the rush to convert food crops into transport fuel will have unintended consequences. 

“The scale is dramatic.  To meet current EU quotas would require between 50 and 80 per cent of rapeseed production.  Ultimately, there could be supply shortages,” Mr Jope reportedly told the newspaper.

However, when challenged about the statement a Unilever spokesman said the article had been “slightly misrepresentative”.

“We wanted to emphasize that biofuels, especially first generation biofuels, such as those derived from rapeseed and sugar beet, are not the panacea to our energy woes that some believe they will be,” said the spokesman.

“But while we are in favour of pursuing technologies for renewable fuels, there will of course be implications for food prices,” he added.

It is Unilever’s opinion that the second generation of biofuel technologies will be more suitable, with less impact on food prices.

“We feel straw and pulp offer more, they are more efficient and better for the environment and, of course, don’t compete with the food.”

“We simply think the debate is very blinkered in what it is trying to achieve.  The EU target of 5.75% will have a minimal impact in our use of mineral oil while removing valuable quantities of raw food material from the food chain.”

However, the comments were rebuffed by NFU vice-president Paul Temple who said it was time Unilever appreciated that the days of subsidised food were over following the reform of the CAP.

“In the past Unilever, like many other large food producers, has been a large beneficiary of the CAP which meant farmers could afford to produce at below the cost of production.  That’s not the case anymore.

“Unilever’s argument is itself misrepresentative.  Rapeseed is a global commodity, there are large intervention stocks and with countries such as Bulgaria and Romania coming on to the EU we need to develop other markets for our commodities.” 

He added: “First generation biofuel crops will play a key role in establishing this industry over the next 15 – 20 years.  When new technologies become available we can simply incorporate them in to our existing systems.”