Proteins and Renewable Energy: One and the same challenge

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Press release – Brussels, 26th March 2018

Despite 30 years of efforts and no less than 5 “protein plans”, the European Union still suffers from a considerable chronic deficit in plant proteins: more than 30 million tonnes of soybean crops were imported during 2016-17. This figure comes under the spotlight in the analysis presented today, with a report entitled: Proteins and Renewable energy – One and the same challenge together with Farm Europe’s Protein Independence indicator.

The review of all policy measures adopted by the EU since 1992 to reduce its dependence on imports of animal protein from Latin America, shows that two measures have had a significant impact in recent years – measures on which the protein independence of the EU depends today:

  • On the one hand, the development of the biofuels sector. Thanks to the co-generation of 13 million tons of Protein-rich products per year, it is the largest “protein plan” in terms of its size and capacity to reduce substantially European dependence on soybean imports. Specifically, Farm Europe’s Protein Independence Indicator highlights that biofuels produced in the European Union have increased the level of EU independence from 18% to 34% over the period 1994-2014.
  • On the other hand, more recently, the greening of the 2013 CAP and in particular the measure authorizing nitrogen-fixing crops on the so-called Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) doubled the volumes produced in Europe of field peas, broad beans and soy beans (+40%), this represents 2,3 million tons of protein rich products, “Made in EU”.

It is however unfortunate to note, that these positive dynamics, which are able to reduce the plant protein dependence of the European Union, are yet both challenged by recent initiatives already discussed or being currently negotiated by the European institutions.

On one side, as part of the recast of the REDII Directive, the European Union proposed a “phasing out” of the so-called first generation biofuels, without taking into account the fact that part of the production, coming from European raw materials, contributes to about 52% to the EU’s protein independence. The co-generation biofuel/protein and the link with industrial activities make a single chain. The protein production activity would not withstand a lower European ambition for biofuels. This is confirmed already by the negative evolution of the Protein Indicator which went down from 34% to 31% between 2014 and 2017. The positive dynamic has been stopped by  the reduction of 2.2 million tons of colza production due to the fierce competition of biofuels produced from palm oil since 2012-2013. This competition showed that less biofuels from oilseeds means less proteins for Europe.

On the other side, to give pledges on the greening the CAP, the decision taken by the Commission to abandon flexibility in the use of pesticides on Ecological Focus Areas is likely to have environmental counterproductive effects, by reducing the areas devoted to EFAs and particularly for protein crops. These effects are indeed likely to be felt from the next sowing.

It is therefore urgent, in order to develop a real European protein strategy by 2020, to build on the efforts made in recent years, not by destabilizing the European biofuel sector but, on the contrary, enhancing and valuing the protein dimension of the co-generation of green energy by taking the opportunity of the ongoing RED2 review. Moreover, it is necessary to re-establish at European scale, a solid and coherent green architecture for the future CAP combining environmental and economic sustainability.