Sustainable Biofuel Policy: Assessing Canada’s Biofuel Policies against Bioethical Principles

By Patricia Hanney, David Secko and Terry McIntyre.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability Policy and Practice

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Canada has wholeheartedly embraced the development of biofuels. Similar to central governments in a number of other industrialized countries, Canada has established federal and provincial mandated polices for biofuel production. With this foundational biofuel infrastructure more or less in place, Canada is now poised to also enter into a new phase with a focus on 2nd generation ethanol production facilities that will utilize a wide range of organic waste materials. This domestic and international support for biofuels has not come without increasing “criticisms” regarding issues of sustainability and attendant environmental and societal consequences from the wide-scale production of 1st generation biofuels. Against this backdrop comes new debate related to the fundamental concepts of how biofuels are, could, and should be assessed for sustainability. In April 2011, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics issued a report that attempted to add a “new assessment framework” to the biofuels mix, focusing exclusively on ensuring the ethical production of biofuels. While both a precedential and provocative report, the Nuffield principles remain relatively untested and are not representative of North American conditions—specifically how they complement or possibly conflict with existing Canadian efforts towards an overall determination of sustainability. In this paper, we explore the rationale for the development of the Nuffield principles and consider their use against the backdrop of evolving environmental and sustainability considerations in Canada. This analysis proposes the need for a deeper conversation with the concept of an “ethical duty” for Canadian biofuels.

Keywords: Biofuels, Ethics, Sustainability, Policy, Canada

The International Journal of Sustainability Policy and Practice, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp.75-88. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 397.246KB).

Patricia Hanney

Research Assistant, Genozymes-GE3LS project, Concordia University, Montreal, QC, Canada

Patricia Hanney is a research assistant with the Genozymes-GE3LS project at Concordia University, Montreal. Her research examines the interplay of emerging biotechnologies with environmental and sustainability issues. She is currently investigating sustainability frameworks for cellulosic conversion processes and co-products. Patricia holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and social policy from Trinity College, University of Dublin and an M.Sc in sustainable development from the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Dr. David Secko

Associate Professor, Department of Journalism, Concordia University, Montreal, QC, Canada

David M. Secko is an Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism at Concordia University. He currently runs the Concordia Science Journalism Project ( and leads the Genozymes-GE3LS project funded by Genome Quebec and Genome Canada ( His research links across journalism, science and ethical issues to clarify and experiment with the roles of the public, experts and journalists in the democratic governance of biotechnology.

Dr. Terry McIntyre

Senior Science Advisor – Biofuels, Environment Canada, Ottawa, ON, Canada

For the past 28 years, Terry McIntyre has held a number of positions within Environment Canada that have focused on improved understanding the regulatory, scientific, technical, and environmental dimensions of applied biosciences-for a variety of domestic, national, and international life science initiatives. His first fifteen years were spent in the development of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act-New Substances Notification Regulations where he managed the scientific team responsible for the development of the risk assessment framework now currently deployed under CEPA NSD for the evaluation of microorganisms prior to their importation, manufacture, and use in Canada. For the last fourteen years, he has worked exclusively on applied environmental biotechnology where he leads a research term exploring the environmental consequences of applied microbial, plant, and biochemical based approaches to such areas as biofuels and biochemicals production, energy efficiency, industrial ecology, GHG adaptation and mitigation, and plant based remediation and restoration systems.