The UN agency in charge of alleviating world hunger warned the European Union on Thursday that the fast-growing use of biofuels is driving up food prices for the world's poor.
"The shift to biofuels production has diverted lands out of the food chain," World Food Programme executive director Josette Sheeran told lawmakers at the European Parliament in Brussels.
"Food prices such as palm oil in Africa are now set at fuel prices," she added.
Sheeran warned that booming food prices were hurting the WFP's "capacity to respond to hunger" by increasing its operating costs, which have risen by 40 percent since June 2007 alone.
The price of many food commodities has soared worldwide to record levels over the last year due to booming demand in fast-growing Asian countries as well as the increased use of biofuels.
Although Sheeran attributed some of the price increase to market speculation, she also said that "structural factors are part of today's high prices."
"It may be a bonanza for farmers -- I hope it is true -- but in the short-term, the world's poorest are hit hard," she said.
The 27-nation EU aims to ramp up its use of biofuels in coming years after the bloc's leaders set tough renewable energy targets last year.
They committed to increase the EU's renewable energy use by 20 percent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, with biofuels to make up 10 percent of all transport fuels used by then.
However, since EU leaders fixed those targets in March last year, concerns have risen about possible negative effects from biofuels, including their impact on food prices and the environment.