Brazil President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said that "over 800 million people every night go to sleep feeling hungry which is an insult to humanity" and blamed the "intolerable protectionism of wealthy countries" that insulate their farming sectors.
Addressing the United Nations Food and Agriculture (FAO) meeting in Rome he also rejected that ethanol production cut food output, "biofuels are not the villains," on the contrary "they are an important instrument for generating income and creating jobs" helping countries to combat food and energy insecurity.
A group of analysts and environmentalists have blamed biofuels for part of the increase in costs and food shortages that have sparked riots in more than 30 countries. Diversion of land from food crops to biofuels has contributed 30% of the rise, according to the Washington-based International Food Policy Research.
Lula insisted that to really understand the true reasons behind the current food crisis "it is essential to sweep aside the smoke that certain powerful lobbies are generating with the purpose of attributing responsibility on ethanol production for the recent food inflation."
Brazilian cultivation of sugar cane for ethanol accounts for 1% of Brazil's 340 million hectares of arable land, Lula said. Plantations haven't encroached on land used for food cultivation or on the Amazon rainforest, he added.
Ethanol from sugar cane gives off 8.3 times more energy than is needed to produce it, while for corn the ratio is 1.5 times, Lula said.
"I don't favor producing ethanol from corn or other food crops, and I doubt that anyone would go hungry to fill up their car's fuel tank."
Two of the main causes of the surge in food prices are record oil prices and "absurdly protectionist farm policies in rich countries," the Brazilian leader said in his address.
"Subsidies create dependency, break down entire production systems and provoke hunger and poverty. It is high time to do away with them," Lula insisted. "It offends me to see fingers pointed against clean biofuels – fingers tainted with oil and coal"