Ireland has the lowest number of registered legume varieties such as chickpeas, lentils and faba beans, according to the VALPRO path project lead by Teagasc.

The project aims to turn food-chain actors towards sustainable plant-protein production and to showcase ways to enhance legume production for food and feed in the EU. 

An online story map titled “Feeling the Pulse: Identifying Gaps in the EU Plant-Based Protein Value Chain” developed by Teagasc reveals “critical gaps” across the value chain.

The map considers high-value protein crops that are harvested for their grain for human food and animal feed such as soybean, pea, faba bean, lupins, chickpea and lentil.

The journey towards a transformed European food system through the development of new plant-based value chains faces “numerous challenges”, Teagasc said.

Protein crops

Legume potential in European farming systems is hindered by a shortfall in registered grain legume varieties adaptable to diverse climates, the story map shows.

France, the Netherlands and Italy have the highest number of registered legumes in the EU. Overall, however, there is a significant disparity between grain legumes and wheat.

Source: VALPRO path project

Insufficient registered plant protection products result in a scarcity of inputs for managing pests, diseases and weeds in protein-rich legumes, affecting yield stability, Teagasc said.

Current grain legume yields in the EU fall below their potential, with the lack of in-depth farm advisory support, education and training impeding high yields and restricting innovation opportunities.

Further findings revealing gaps at the processing, packaging, marketing and distribution stages are as follows:

  • Existing technologies can alter plant-based ingredient textures, but additional techniques are needed to ensure sensory properties and functionality;
  • Communication gaps related to labelling, marketing standards and brands are observed;
  • Consumer knowledge gaps contribute to confusion and concern, creating a gap at the sales and retail stage;
  • In the food service sector, knowledge gaps and inconsistent retailer promotions hinder the recognition of unique characteristics of plant-based proteins.

The map notes that governments and policy makers on the one hand, and society and individuals on the other hand, have a role to play in addressing these gaps.

The story map will be reviewed and updated over the course of the project, highlighting ongoing challenges and the progress achieved, project coordinator Dr. Ewen Mullins from Teagasc said.

The project is co-funded by the EU’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme. The final report documenting the literature review on which the map is based will be available in January 2024.