‘Europe must and can do more in terms of boosting domestic protein production’

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/urbazon
© GettyImages/urbazon

Related tags Protein EU Commission FEFAC Copa and Cogeca EUROSEEDS

EU farming, feed and seed associations have made a joint call for an EU strategy on plant protein.

COPA & COGECA, FEFAC and EUROSEEDS said EU self-sufficiency in high protein raw material sources for either food or feed is not achievable in the short or midterm, particularly if there is no access to best in class breeding techniques, crop protection products and fertilizers. “A reliance on protein imports from third countries is, therefore, here to stay for the foreseeable future.”

Europe has long had a shortage of high protein-sources, and a considerable dependence on feed protein imports, as a result. Currently, there is increasing demand for plant-based protein for food use, which is ramping up fast, noted the organizations, in a position paper​.

Given the EU Green Deal, the Farm to Fork (F2F), biodiversity strategies and related objectives, the trade groups urge the Commission to take a leading role in promoting the domestic cultivation and use of European plant sourced protein.

“Without doubt, Europe must and can do more in terms of increasing domestic protein production from plants.”

A functioning European plant protein sector would need to be competitive, of high quality and resilient to economic, environmental, climatic, and technological challenges, they stressed. To achieve these goals, consistent European and national policies are required.

Legal framework, clear goals

Without a legal framework and clear goals, progress on that score won’t be possible, said the industry representatives, citing new organic farming rules and possible trade disruptions, for example, as only intensifying the already existing structural organic protein feed shortage in the EU.

The EU should support research investments to enable more sustainable production, they said.

“There is no simple and easy solution to overcome the EU high protein sources deficit. From our point of view, this would come from an increase of the production per hectare of the already established crops, an increase of the protein content, the bioavailability and the proportion of essential amino acids in key crops, such as cereals, and better pricing at farm level of protein content or quality above the standard.”

They outlined the measures they believe are needed to boost domestic protein production in the EU, while reducing dependency on imports, increasing diversity in crop use and lowering carbon footprint:

  • A consistent EU framework enabling European protein value chains’ competitiveness 
  • Meaningful and long-term incentive to stakeholders 
  • A balance sheet to track production and consumption of food plant protein, and to support the development of national feed protein balance sheets 
  • Development of an innovation-friendly framework for competitive research and development 
  • Support for educational communication to consumers on EU sustainable agricultural production practices and the benefits of a diversified and a balanced diet 

A report​, published this week from an all-Ireland initiative to ensure food security and sustainability, found that there are substantial market opportunities in plant innovation, many of which are currently being met through imports, in the areas of food, sustainability and diversified land uses.

"For example, Ireland is ‘protein deficient’ with animal feed protein being imported. Despite these opportunities, public funding in this area has been declining year-on-year since 2015 with a substantial negative CAGR of -26.5% for the period 2015-2019."

Food security actions 

Meanwhile, in a release​ yesterday, the EU Commission touched on the topic of EU protein supply. It said the surge in global commodity prices, further accelerated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, again shows the need for EU agriculture and food supply chains to become more resilient and sustainable, in line with the F2F strategy, with it highlighting the need to enhance local plant protein cultivation. 

"Enhancing resilience, by reducing the dependency of European agriculture on energy, energy intensive imports and feed imports is more than ever a necessity.

"Resilience requires diversified import sources and market outlets through a robust multilateral and bilateral trade policy.

"Horizon Europe will invest in research and innovation to substitute the use of synthetic fertilisers. Greater efficiency in nitrogen use, transition to green ammonia for fertilisers, and biomass valorisation are among the proposals presented by the Commission."

It urged member states to use all the available instruments in their CAP strategic plans for the period 2023-2027 in that regard. "This concerns for example the use of risk management tools, the development of precision farming or coupled support to boost protein crops."

Temporary crop production, feed import measures 

The Commission also identified a range of short-term and medium-term actions necessary to enhance global food security and to support farmers and consumers in the EU in light of the war in Ukraine, rising food prices and input costs, such as energy and fertilisers.

It announced an exceptional and temporary derogation to allow the production of any crops for food and feed purposes on fallow land, while maintaining the full level of the greening payment for farmers. “This will enlarge the EU's production capacity in spite of the limited availability of fertile land.”

While, it said, specific temporary flexibilities to existing import requirements on animal feed will contribute to alleviating the pressure on the feed market.

The policymakers proposed a new, self-standing temporary crisis framework that covers farmers, fertiliser producers and the fisheries sector. “This allows state aid to farmers affected by significant increases in input costs. Fertiliser prices and supplies for farmers will be monitored to ensure that the prospects for EU harvests are not jeopardised.”

The Commission also encouraged member states to communicate data on private stocks of essential commodities for food and feed on a monthly basis to have a "timely and accurate overview​" of their availability.

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