Agrofuels and the EU Research Budget

Despite well-publicised concerns about the damaging social and environmental impacts of large-scale agrofuel production, the European Union continues to provide incentives to promote their development, including through public funding for research. This article highlights how industry is now benefiting from research funding, having helped the EU write its Strategic Research Agenda, setting the criteria for research.

The European Commission’s high-level European Technology Platforms (ETPs) provide privileged access to industry in shaping the EU research direction and spending of the research budget.

Advice from the industry-dominated European Biofuels Technology Platform (EBFTP), for example, has resulted in projects being approved for public funding, regardless of whether these are in the public interest. Examples include developing GM trees and promoting agrofuel production in Brazil for the European market. Projects approved so far under the current EU research funding programme (FP7) have received a total of at least 61.5 million euro.

Several of the companies that participated in the EBFTP have received public funding for their research projects, including Bayer, Shell, Syngenta, Novozymes, SEKAB, Abengoa, Repsol and SweTree Technologies.

Some of these projects raise serious social and environmental concerns. GM trees which have been modified to reduce the amount of lignin pose a very serious threat to native tree varieties. The promotion of agrofuel production in Latin-America for the European market is likely to lead to further expansion of monocultures, destroying natural habitat and replacing small-scale farming systems.

The approval of projects reflects recommendations made in the Strategic Research Agenda developed by the EBFTP. The European Commission does not disclose which experts decide on which project, but a number of experts listed work for companies with an interest in agrofuels.

As a result, public funding is being directed principally to serve the interests of industry, while the broader impacts of agrofuel expansion are not taken into account.

Corporate Europe Observatory has called for the EBFTP to be abandoned, and has filed a complaint with the European Ombudsman regarding the Commission’s biased approach which favours industry interests through the EBFTP.

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