The agriculture ministers of Austria, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia endorsed the proposal during the July Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels.
The 13 signatories agreed to increase production of legume crops for food and feed as a contribution to the development of more sustainable and resilient agricultural systems in Europe.
Such efforts would support the UN Agenda 2030 and the EU’s Sustainable Development Strategy, said the signatories.
The dependency of Europe on soybean and soybean meal imports is also behind the call for change, the push to substantially increase protein crop production in the Europe.
According to the declaration, legume crops are vital to the global agricultural system but only 3-4% of the arable land area in Europe is used for such crops: “Increasing European legume production contributes to the diversification of cropping with benefits for other crops, particularly cereals.
“Legume crops are ‘break’ crops that reduce weed, pest and disease risks in cropping systems. This reduces the need for pesticides. They also ‘fix’ atmospheric nitrogen reducing fertilizer nitrogen use.
“Soybean is the most widely cultivated legume in the world.”
The agriculture ministers also claimed that soybean production can be increased in many countries in western Europe, but that even greater opportunities exist in central and eastern Europe. “Large areas of these regions are cultivated with wheat, maize, oilseed rape and sunflower in simple cropping systems that lack diversity. Including legumes in these cropping systems strengthens local economies, increases local and regional protein self-sufficiency, and supports East-West protein partnerships. Protein crop production in Europe generally supports rural economies and creates jobs in farming, processing and usage of locally produced proteins for food and feed.”
The signatories said they are committed to increasing choice for consumers with respect to GMO-free food and feed and, therefore, support the further development of markets for sustainably cultivated non-GMO soybeans and soybean products as well as the establishment of transparent product labeling systems based on certified production standards such as Danube Soya and Europe Soya.
Coherence between policies
EU trade groups, COCERAL, FEDIOL and FEFAC, said they shared the objective of increased production of soy in Europe.
“According to the protein balance sheet developed by the European Commission, with input from COCERAL, FEDIOL, FEFAC and several other stakeholders, Europe produces already important amounts of protein, but there is a clear deficit of protein-rich crops and feed material. Out of the 31.2m tons of protein-rich soybean meal used for feed in Europe in 2015/2016, 1.5m was produced from EU grown soybeans.”
However, they warned that even though increasing EU soy and legumes production is highly desirable, this cannot be the only response to the EU protein deficit and import dependence.
“There needs to be coherence between policies: in this sense, over 11 million tons of protein-rich meals, mainly from rapeseed, are directly related to the production of biodiesel and will disappear if the phasing out of crop-based biofuels proposed in the post-2020 revision of the Renewable Energy Directive is actually implemented.”
They also said that putting the emphasis on the fact that enhancing production of legumes, and particularly soy, will replace imported soy that contributes to deforestation, means ignoring the considerable efforts that European stakeholders, along with their overseas partners, have undertaken to supply from sustainable sources.
“Soy is not necessarily unsustainable per se and there are options for addressing deforestation and preventing it from happening at origin. A promotion of EU soy cultivation should leave space to initiatives that support sustainability and no deforestation in the soy chain.”
The trade groups also stressed that non-GMO/GMO status is not a criterion for sustainability and the choice for one or the other quality should be left to the market to decide, as is currently the case.
Agrifirm costing of EU origin protein feeds
Dutch feed company, Agrifirm, says it can deliver feeds of EU origin but the market must take account of the fact that costs rise the more local protein inputs are included in the final feedstuffs.
Ruud Tijssens, director corporate affairs, strategic R&D and CSR, at Agrifirm, recently told us that market demand for regional raw materials is growing in Europe and elsewhere.
His company is regularly asked to participate, or to think about the impact for chain, he said, given the fact it supports a Dutch soy cultivation project.
“There is a clear regionalization trend. We see it in Belgium, France and the Netherlands; it is a global trend really.”
He said that trend is partly arising out of increased interest in closing the mineral cycle - the local recycling of excess nutrients in livestock wastes such as manure for subsequent cereal crop production. Also other drivers, like geopolitical considerations, play an important role.
However, demand for feeds of EU origin needs professional support, said Tijssens “Beyond the sourcing of raw materials, there is also a huge amount of know how needed around what it takes to manufacture new feeds.”
Demand for regional raw materials needs proper guidance, because improper implementation leads to uncontrollable processes, the unavailability of raw materials and unwanted and unnecessary cost price increase, he explained.
NGOs and other downstream parties like retailers or dairy companies often consult Agrifirm about the development of EU origin feeds, he said. The line of questioning often relates to whether European soy is available, he added. “However, I always say availability of European soy is not the problem. Supply will increase based on market demand. The cost of European grown soy is the issue. It is double the price of soy on the world market – we see a price premium of around €150 to €200 attached to European soy.”
Agrifirm decided to nail down exactly what interested parties meant by feed of EU origin only to meet the requests of NGOs and downstream partners, but also to address the fundamentals of EU origin feeds to make politicians and government aware of the pros and cons of sourcing regionally, so that they were up to speed on what is involved.