Biofuels in the EU are deeply intertwined with global food and feed markets. As the EU discusses its future biofuels policy, their contribution to the bloc’s animal feed supply and impact on food prices have emerged as major battlegrounds between supporters and critics.
In its proposal for the recast of the Renewable Energy Directive for 2021-2030 (RED II), the European Commission called for a reduction of the cap on first-generation biofuels, made from food crops, used in the transport sector from 7% in 2020 to 3.8% in 2030. The proposal is currently being debated in the European Parliament’s committees ahead of a final vote in January 2018.
Cutting feed imports
By-products from biodiesel and bioethanol crops generate some 17 million tonnes of feed for EU livestock every year. According to the association of EU farmers and agri-cooperatives Copa-Cogeca, EU support for first-generation biofuels under the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive (RED I) has cut the bloc’s dependence on imports of animal feed proteins by 10%.
“First generation biofuels produced from arable crops grown in the EU replace four to five million hectares of soya that would otherwise be imported from third countries, mainly in South America,” stated Copa-Cogeca.
For Marijana Petir, a Croatian MEP (EPP group) and member of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, told to EURACTIV that not only would this leave farmers more dependent on imports, but in contrast to the feed produced by the EU biofuel industry those imports will be based on genetically modified (GMO) material.
Europe’s farmers still import around 70% of the plant protein they need to feed their livestock. The majority of imports come from South America, costing €12bn per year. And the cut in imports has not necessarily driven down feed prices in Europe.
Broader market disturbances
“Stable agricultural markets lead to increased investments and increased productivity, which is beneficial for food as well as biofuels,” the Copa-Cogeca study stated. “Conventional biofuels are not automatically synonymous with market conflicts.”
And simply finding new markets for the newly generated surplus is not a viable option, according to the industry.
“There is no alternative outlet in the EU to absorb 6.4 million tonnes of rapeseed oil. Neither is it realistic to consider that this volume will replace imported tropical oils,” Nathalie Lecocq, the director-general of Fediol, the organisation representing the EU vegetable oil and protein meal industry, told EURACTIV.
What is more, the Fediol secretary-general said that if oilseed producers, who provide the raw materials for biodiesel, were to switch to other crops, such as wheat, it would “drive crop prices down across the board, reducing farmers profitability”.
Cereal prices have already fallen 40% in three years due to record global production. Converting the EU’s rapeseed fields to wheat would increase EU production by 15% and further undermine prices.