Spreekpunten bij het in ontvangst nemen van het position paper 'Biomassa, hot issue' (Engelstalig)

Spreekpunten van de minister van Landbouw, Natuur en Voedselkwaliteit, mevrouw G. Verburg bij het in ontvangst nemen van het position paper 'Biomassa, hot issue' op 1 juni in Rotterdam.

Thank you for this paper.

  • Let me tell you straight away that I agree with the title. Biomass is indeed a hot issue. Of late they seem to be getting more of the blame. Demand for biofuels is rising and food prices are soaring. This must surely mean they are linked somehow.
  • You have unraveled the myth : biofuels are not only to blame for the rise in global food prices.
  • Now everybody can read the facts for themselves. Right now, fuel crops take up one and a half percent of global farmland. A very small percentage indeed. And looking ahead, biofuels will have even less to do with food. In the near future we will use waste flows, the second generation biofuels. Moreover, farming has never been about food production alone. Farmers have always been there for other things too, like clothes and paper.
  • You also explain the rise in prices. The prices of practically all raw materials have soared over the past decade. The rise in prices now is set off against the fall in prices in the past. Some eight years ago, for instance, we saw the prices for cereals, rice and vegetable oils fall sharply. They went up again in 2001 to end up at the price levels of eleven years ago. These are the facts.
  • The poorest areas are hardest hit of course. For people in Haiti the price of a portion of rice has become unimaginable, whereas in the Netherlands people can buy a carton of milk for less than an euro.
  • Fighting global poverty has become a number one priority for our government. It has become urgent for humane reasons but also for reasons of global safety. And Europe may play its part there. My Ministry joins the Ministry of Development Cooperation to invest a sum of 50 million euros in agriculture in developing countries.
  • Back to biofuels. I see some optimism here, qualified optimism. In the Netherlands we can replace ten percent of oil and gas use. By using the biomass we have now, in a more efficient manner. By making use of waste flows. But we must ask the right questions. How can I get the most from using it? What are its high- value applications, what the low-value applications?
  • I found your comments also quite interesting. It would indeed be a pity if we narrowed down the debate to just diesel and petrol and their green counterparts: biodiesel and bio-ethanol. That is not what biomass is all about. For the greater part, biomass (plant material like wood and other fibres) is used for the generation of electricity. And these waste materials do not compete with food crops either (we do not generally eat branches and leaves). But we must remain vigilant: biomass production must not affect biodiversity or damage the environment.
  • Let me be clear. If there are competing claims between food and fuel, we have to choose for food.
  • More biomass production will also benefit the poor. It might provide a new source of income if the demand goes up.
  • The opportunities are there but our dependence on oil has not yet been broken. There is still a long way to go. But I am optimistic, like you, there is a way. It runs via sustainability. The government will therefore continue to promote the sustainable production of food and non-food crops.