MEPs call for ‘robust strategy’ to boost protein crops on EU farms

The EU must do its utmost to increase and improve protein crop production at farm level and diversify imports from abroad, the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee said yesterday.

To this end, the committee is calling for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to be updated to make cultivation of soya, and other grain protein crops, more profitable and competitive.

The committee adopted the draft non-legislative resolution on the future EU strategy for the promotion of protein crops by 35 votes in favour and one against – with six abstentions.

MEPs are calling for voluntary coupled payments for all protein crops in all regions – not only for those in difficulty.

They also want protein production boosted on ecological focus areas – for both conventional and organic farming; plus, the introduction of a leguminous component for rotation systems on arable land.

The committee stressed that nitrogen-fixing protein crops can help farmers cut usage of synthetic nitrogenous fertilisers – this can result in the reduction of both input costs and negative impact on the environment.

MEPs also added that the future EU’s farming policy should also aim to:
  • Develop local and regional protein production and processing chains;
  • Support greater self-sufficiency of farms with animal feed and adapt the animals’ diets to their real needs – for example grass fodder instead of soya meal for ruminants;
  • Cut waste by improving harvesting, storage and processing systems, and by making greater use of precision agriculture to adjust plant and animal feed inputs.

Boosting research

However, MEPs first want to establish an EU platform – supported by the European arable crops market observatory – to identify protein cultivation areas, determine protein production capabilities and catalogue all research done so far in the field.

Subsequently, the EU is being urged to then “heavily invest” into integrated and targeted research to make protein crops more economically attractive, more competitive and to increase yields.

Importing less and focusing more on opportunity within member states is crucial to the overall aim.

Soya production in South America was scrutinised by MEPs for being a major factor behind land use change, deforestation, soil erosion and pesticide contamination.

The future EU protein strategy must reduce the union’s major deficit in vegetable proteins – which makes its livestock sector dependent on feed imports from third countries, the committee stated.

Although the EU’s autonomy in soya, and other proteins’, supply can be achieved through closer cooperation with union neighbours and import diversification; the approved text also highlights that imports must meet the EU’s social and environmental standards – and should preferably be GMO-free.

Jean-Paul Denanot, committee rapporteur said: “The EU urgently needs an ambitious protein supply plan to: reduce our dependence on imports of soya and other protein products from third countries; speed up the transition towards more sustainable farming systems; reduce emissions linked to deforestation; and boost biodiversity and the circular economy.

“Today we adopted our proposals for a robust plan for vegetable proteins in Europe that, I hope, are going to be taken up by the commission and the council,” he said.

To bring about a real change, we need to have strong legislative measures with clear incentives for farmers in place as soon as possible.

Currently the EU is suffering from a major deficit in vegetable proteins, which are used to feed the livestock, and is dependent on imports from third countries.

The European production of protein-rich matter rose from 24 million tonnes in 1994 to 36 million tonnes in 2014.

Meanwhile, consumption increased from almost 40 million tonnes to 57 million tonnes over the same period – as a result the union’s overall deficit increased by around 25% up to almost 21 million tonnes.

The EU Commission is expected to develop the EU’s strategy on tackling the union’s deficit in plant proteins and reducing its dependency on protein imports by the end of 2018.

The Agriculture Committee’s ideas will now be scrutinised by the Parliament as a whole – probably during the April 16-19 plenary session in Strasbourg.