European officials have the foresight and flexibility to admit that the world’s romance with bio-fuels is going sour. Why can’t the USdo the same? Evidence is mounting that farming to meet the demand for biofuel feedstocks — mostly corn, soybeans, and sugar cane — is contributing to rising world food prices and deforestation. And the energy needed to produce fuel from food can cause a net increase in carbon emissions.

Faced with the facts, the Europeans didn’t flinch. British and German energy ministers have recommended that their own ambitious production targets be scaled back. The European Parliament is considering new requirements that 20 per cent of its bio-fuels come from algae or other non-farm sources.

By contrast, the US Congress refuses to reconsider the mandates set out in the 2007 energy bill, which requires that 36 billion gallons of bio-fuels be produced each year by 2022. The farm bill that passed last month does make a nod to less damaging alternative feedstocks, such as switchgrass, but there is no legislative vehicle on the horizon to revisit the overall mandates. Last week the Massachusetts House passed a bill to promote efficient celluosic bio-fuels, with tax breaks and mandates beginning in 2010. It’s a more thoughtful way to encourage alternative fuels.