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Grain for Food Takes Priority over Biofuel
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A senior Chinese official has assured the public of sufficient food supplies amid rising concerns over the potential impact of developing biofuel from grains.


Zhu Zhigang, vice-minister of finance, said on Saturday that biofuel and biochemistry must only be developed on the basis of guaranteeing China's food supplies first.


He made the comments as grain prices have risen particularly for corn the main raw material for ethanol a crude oil substitute and an environment-friendly energy.


Ethanol has been the main biofuel produced in China with output hitting 1.02 million tons last year -- and corn accounting for 76 percent of the raw material. The others are wheat and sorghum.


Zhai Huqu, president of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, earlier said China cannot afford using grain for developing energy.


"We can do research on using corn and other grains as an energy substitute but it cannot be industrialized," Zhai was quoted as saying by Xinhua News Agency.


"It will be a disaster for us if we depend on a huge amount of corn and other grains for energy."


Zhu also stressed that grain is crucially important to China, since the country's arable land is insufficient for a population of 1.3 billion.


Only when the supply of grain exceeds demand, then part of it should be processed into biofuel.


Such a move balances supply and demand, and protects a farmer's enthusiasm for crop growing, he said.


"China will carefully evaluate the grain consumption of the biofuel project and its influence on the food chain," Zhu was quoted as saying by China News Service.


"The government will impose strict controls on any biofuel project using grain as the raw material."


The senior official said the government will encourage the use of non-grain agricultural and forestry plants for developing biofuel.


For biofuel projects that use agricultural plants and wastes, the government will require them to build a raw material production base, which must use uncultivated land instead of arable land.


The potential resources are abundant. Official statistics showed that China has nearly 2 billion mu (133 million hectares) of wasteland that is suitable for growing agricultural and forestry products.


China also produces 600 million tons of farming and forestry wastes such as stalks.


(China Daily December 12, 2006)


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