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Brazil Says Ethanol Having Little Impact On Amazon Basin

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Carmen Gentile
Miami (UPI) Nov 19, 2008
Increasing ethanol production in Brazil will not lead to greater deforestation of the Amazon, as some critics of the world's largest ethanol exporter contend, according to a top Brazilian official at the outset of a five-day international biofuel conference in Brazil.

Dilma Rousseff, the chief of staff for Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, told representatives from 40 countries that the Brazilian ethanol industry was being unfairly maligned for causing deforestation in the world's largest rainforest, which in recent months has experienced an increase in the rate of destruction, according to satellite photos of part of the region.

Rousseff told officials Brazil must "destroy the myth that sugarcane fields are encroaching on the Amazon," noting that Brazil's cane production takes up less than 1 percent of the South American country's total land.

For years Brazilian energy experts have refuted claims that the ethanol sector was a contributor to Amazon destruction, noting that the climate of the forest region is not ideal for cane growth. Much of Brazil's ethanol production comes from the more temperate clime of Sao Paulo state in the country's southeast.

However, detractors contend that Brazilian cane growers are already pushing the boundaries of the Amazon and that the industry's expansion during the last several years due to rising oil prices was responsible for farmers switching to sugarcane in already established agricultural regions and prompting those growing other crops to encroach on the Amazon.

Alternative-fuel experts contend that the ethanol industry in Brazil will continue to grow as long as oil prices remain high, a condition that could mean continued criticism of the Brazilian ethanol sector for years to come.

"Given the strong ethanol market, one would expect that in the medium term, production of ethanol will also increase as sugarcane production rises to meet both sugar and ethanol demand," noted Amani Elobeid, an ethanol analyst at the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at Iowa State University.

Criticism of the ethanol sector in Brazil is nothing new, nor is its defense by the Lula administration and the Brazilian leader himself.

Earlier this year Lula said the world's oil companies were behind the bad press regarding his country's ethanol sector, denying claims by some that the industry uses slave labor and is responsible for deforestation in the Amazon.

"We are aware of the interests held by countries that don't produce ethanol, or produce ethanol from wheat or corn, which are not as competitive," said Lula, an apparent reference to the United States, which is the world's largest producer of ethanol, though its biofuel is largely corn-based.

Hoping to dispel some of the anti-ethanol rhetoric regarding its environmental impact and the treatment of sugarcane cutters, Lula noted that the cane processed into Brazil's sugar-based ethanol isn't grown anywhere near the Amazon and called "absurd" the accusations that the industry was in part responsible for deforestation.

The onetime labor leader turned president also denied claims that the ethanol industry relies heavily on poorly paid sugarcane cutters who sometimes are forced to work for no pay as modern-day slaves.

Human-rights groups have accused ethanol producers of treating their workforce like slaves and have called for the Brazilian government to exercise greater oversight over the industry.

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China to reform oil prices in 20 days: state media
Beijing (AFP) Nov 19, 2008
China is expected to reform its oil pricing mechanism within 20 days as part of efforts to reduce consumption and air pollution, state media reported Wednesday.

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