A German-Hungarian proposal that aims to boost soy growth in the EU led to an important step, as 13 EU member states have signed the European Soya declaration on Monday
Under the hospice of the Hungarian permanent representation to the EU, ministers of Agriculture Austria, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia signed the declaration on the sidelines of the 17 – 18 July Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels.
Presenting the initiative to the press, the Hungarian minister Sándor Fazekas, welcomed the rest of the member states that stepped in after Germany, Austria and Hungary have discussed the initiative, during the International Green Week in Berlin last January. The three ministers, tabled a series of steps to increase European protein feed production (particularly soya) and to diversify agriculture in the process.
According to the declaration, legumes and particularly soya, play and will play a key role in European agriculture and food industry as their sustainable production provides for environmental benefits such as improvement of soil fertility and reduced use of fertilizer as they extend the range of varieties in crop rotations, having positive impacts on biodiversity in agricultural landscapes and contributing to climate change mitigation.
The EU has imported on average 36.1 million tonnes of soybean equivalent on a yearly basis, between 2013 and 2015, while 12.7 million tonnes of soybeans are imported into the EU for crushing into soybean oil and meal; and 18.5 million tonnes of soy-meal, figures that clearly show a high rate of dependency on imports, that in their vast majority are produced with genetically modified seeds.
Since GMOs are not cultivated within the EU, non-GMO soya and legumes could have a great domestic cultivation potential, the 13 member states agreed to integrate soybean cropping into diverse well-planned crop rotations, use of integrated crop protection that follows the ‘as much as is necessary and as little as possible’ principle with priority given to the use of host-plant resistance and tolerant cultivars, while maintaining traditional valued landscapes, landscape features and protection of high nature value biotopes in agricultural landscapes. The 13 signatories further agreed to develop sustainable soybean and other legume markets in Europe that balance and meet the needs of growers, processors, livestock producers and consumers along transparent value chains, while providing consumers with information on moving to more healthy sustainable diets using plant protein.
On livestock, the 13 ministers agreed to encourage more precise livestock feeding aiming to increase the efficiency of protein while improving the use of protein from grassland and support more effective use of other European protein sources such as rapeseed and sunflower meal, and by-products such as distillers grains. On a local basis, ministers agreed to increase locally-adapted legume production using sustainable production techniques and locally adapted legumes and to strengthen support for certification of sustainably-produced soybeans and meal imported from other parts of the world to meet remaining demand.
Greek minister of Agriculture Policy Evangelos Apostolou told to New Europe that the transition to protein is very important for Greece, due to the country’s big problems in livestock feed. “We are losing huge amounts of money every year to import soya for agricultural use. Soya is a feed that is very high in protein,” said Apostolou. ”We are using the remaining coupled payment schemes to encourage farmers to cultivate more legumes, such as soy, lupine and broad beans, but soya is of lower cost for farmers, compared to the rest of the legumes.”
“Legumes and soy as livestock feed can act as a shield, since only non-GMO soya can be cultivated within the EU. Dangers that have to do with GMO soya will be reduced,” said Apostolou, as Greece looks at reducing import costs for livestock feed of €300-350 million per year.