As Bioenergy Booms, Certification Schemes Must Consider Food Security

New study published in Biomass and Bioenergy wins Elsevier’s Atlas award for April 2016

New York, NY, May 10, 2016

As countries around the world look for ways to reduce their use of fossil fuels, the growing demand for bioenergy runs the risk of threatening the global food supply. Researchers reporting in Biomass and Bioenergy have developed a certification scheme for biomass resources designed to incorporate food security, to help ensure people in affected regions of the world can continue to put food on their tables.

The report by researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany has been granted the Elsevier Atlas Award of April 2016.

“The problem of this growing demand for bioenergy is that this trend may have adverse impact on food security through direct competition between biomass and food production when it comes to available resources such as land and water,” said Anna Mohr, the lead author of the study who is now based at Puro Verde Paraíso Forestal SA in Costa Rica. “This might lead to lowered food supplies and also to rising food prices at the local or international level.”

In their work, Mohr and her colleagues began with scrutinizing 19 guidelines issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2004 to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security. The researchers translated those 19 guidelines into 45 criteria designed to ensure that food security isn’t adversely affected by certified biomass production.

Those criteria include a wide range of considerations, from land rights to living wages to disaster preparedness. For instance, the land used for bioenergy production should be free from land disputes with local people, Mohr explained. If companies are making use of land to produce bioenergy instead of food, then they must also pay local people a living wage to ensure they have the ability to purchase healthy food they can no longer grow for themselves.

“The rights-based food security principle is a best-practice set which provides guidance for regional and national standard settings as well as for private certification schemes,” Mohr and her colleagues said. “It is hence an important tool to avoid negative effects on local food security, induce positive changes and monitor the local food security situation.”

It’s now up to governments and the public to demand a standard that assures food security in biomass investments or imports. “There’s always an important interplay between private certifications standards and government regulations,” Mohr said.

Read the full story and interview with the authors.


Notes for editors
The article is “Food security criteria for voluntary biomass sustainability standards and certifications,” by Anna Mohr, Tina Beuchelt, Rafaël Schneider and Detlef Virchow (doi: 10.1016/j.biombioe.2016.02.019. It appears in Biomass and Bioenergy (2016), published by Elsevier.

This article is published open access and available on ScienceDirect. Journalists who would like more information or want to interview the authors can contact Jason Awerdick: or +1 212 633 3103.

About Biomass and Bioenergy
Biomass and Bioenergy is an international journal publishing original research papers and short communications, review articles and case studies on biological resources, chemical and biological processes, and biomass products for new renewable sources of energy and materials. The scope of the journal extends to the environmental, management and economic aspects of biomass and bioenergy.

About Atlas, Research for a better world
Science impacts everyone's world. With over 1,800 journals publishing articles from across science, technology and health, our mission is to share some of the stories that matter. Each month Elsevier’s Atlas showcases research that can significantly impact people's lives around the world or has already done so. We hope that bringing wider attention to this research will go some way to ensuring its successful implementation.

With so many worthy articles published the tough job of selecting a single article to be awarded "The Atlas" each month comes down to an Advisory Board. The winning research is presented alongside interviews, expert opinions, multimedia and much more on the Atlas website:

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Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers.

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