Biofuels have recently been implicated in the dramatic food price increases.
Many current biofuels are made from food products such as sugar cane or corn. The food is broken down (crushed and strained) before being fermented to make ethanol. This ethanol can then be used as an energy dense fuel.
However, the greater the demand for these biofuels the greater the demand for key foods. Together with plagues of crop diseases, droughts and trade barriers (ironically erected to protect national food supplies) this has pushed up the price of rice and wheat by more than 3 times.
The obvious alternative, according to many, is to take plant material that cannot be eaten by us and convert this into sugars before fermenting it to make ethanol. Various biotech firms are currently working on this technology. Craig Ventor (of gene sequencing fame) is one of those involved in this research. The idea is that agricultural waste that is currently just composted could now be exploited to make environmentally friendly fuel.
This all seams like a great idea to me, neatly sidestepping the problem and increasing the potential production capacity simultaneously.
However, I wanted to make a point about the effects, which large scale production of cellulose based ethanol would have. Much of the food stock for animals in the meat industry comes in the form of cellulose. Any large scale production of cellulose based biofuels would therefore imho dramatically increase the cost of meat.
Now I am in favor of this as a vegetarian. However, I do wonder if the general public will be happy for this squeeze on their lifestyle choice.