BRASILIA, Brazil - President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva made an impassioned defense of biofuels, denying that their production contributes to food scarcity and rising global prices.
He also sharply criticized industrial countries for subsidizing agricultural output, which he blamed for undermining the competitiveness of developing nations and reducing world production.
"Biofuels aren't the villain that threatens food security," he said at the start of a Latin American meeting of the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization. "On the contrary ... they can pull countries out of energy dependency without affecting foods."
Brazil is the world's leading exporter of ethanol, and the world's No. 2 producer after the United States. Brazil makes the biofuel from sugar cane, as opposed to the corn-based ethanol that dominates U.S. production.
Silva's speech Wednesday was seen as a response to a U.N. report released Tuesday that called biofuels a "crime against humanity," for diverting food crops toward fuel production as a global scarcity deepens and food prices rise.
The report said farmers worldwide must reduce dependency on fossil fuels and better protect the environment, as riots erupt over food shortages in the Caribbean and Africa and hunger approaches crisis stage in parts of Asia. It recommended an international moratorium on incentives for producing and marketing biofuels.
Silva said that argument is the work of "second-guessers" who are giving opinions about Brazil from overseas.
"The real crimes against humanity are discarding biofuels and criticizing countries, energy dependence and food insecurity," he said.
"If there is no reduction of agricultural subsidies in Europe, it will be difficult for poor countries to be competitive," Silva added.
Delegates from several Latin American countries had criticized biofuels in meetings ahead of the conference, which ends Friday.