Biofuels a continuing source of contention
Subsidies to biofuels industry unfair, states new report
It was a little under two years from the time the province looked into the feasibility of developing a biofuels industry in the province to the time it opened its first ethanol plant.
But a report published this month condemning biofuels and biodiesel may turn the tide against this growing industry.
The Government of Manitoba did a feasibility study on developing a provincial biofuels industry in December 2006. In January 2008, the Biofuels Act mandated a five per cent ethanol blend in all gasoline sold in the province for the first year.
The ethanol percentage has since increased to 8.5 per cent.
This fall also saw Manitoba’s first ethanol plant come online, a Husky Energy plant in Minnedosa.
Given the provincial mandate allowing only those with official permission to produce ethanol in Manitoba, this plant has an essential monopoly on ethanol production in the province.
This regulation sets a dangerous precedent, claims Feed People First, a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) report examining the growing partnerships between governments and the biofuels industry.
Edward Boyle, a Saskatchewan-based public affairs consultant and the report’s author, is unapologetic about biofuels.
“[Biofuels] are a wasteful and inefficient use of public money, benefiting only a few at the expense of many.”
Boyle blames governments for sustaining the biofuel industry through unfair subsidies and tariffs.
Manitoba grants subsidies to new biofuel and biodiesel developments, and mandates biofuel consumption in the law.
On the opening of the Minnedosa plant, Agriculture Minister Rosann Wowchuk extolled the virtues of biofuels.
“Biofuels are a key part of Manitoba’s clean-energy strategy and an important step toward meeting our Kyoto targets.”
“Today’s official opening will help Manitoba reduce greenhouse gases while bringing new economic opportunities into western Manitoba.”
But Glen Koroluk, co-founder of Beyond Factory Farming, a national coalition for socially responsible livestock production, disagrees.
“Government studies always claim biofuels will reduce greenhouse gases. But independent studies have shown that, after fertilizer, harvest, transport, and machinery, there are no real environmental gains.”
“It doesn’t address the real problem, our over-dependence on vehicles,” he said.
Meanwhile, Koroluk is concerned about the resulting loss in farmland.
The CCPA report suggests a correlation between land conversion for the biofuel industry and the rising cost of food.
An earlier World Bank publication suggested biofuels have contributed to a 70 per cent increase in global food prices.
“Manitoba is a small player, and grain prices are set by an international market; crises are caused by international speculators,” Koroluk said.
“But already we are seeing a rise of the cost of livestock feed. Those costs are being absorbed by cattle ranchers and hog farmers.”
Koroluk was part of a team who argued against the Biofuels Act when it was brought to legislature.
He also argued against Bill C-33 in the Senate last year.
This bill, passed on June 26, 2008, mandates national levels of biofuels in gasoline and diesel for the next three to five years. This policy mirrors the United States’ commitment to biofuel expansion.
“There’s people all around the world who are not food secure, who are living in poverty, and we’re turning grain into fuel for cars. It’s absurd,” Koroluk said.
A representative from Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives was unavailable.
Published in Volume 63, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 12, 2009)