Pulses and oilseeds in the European protein transition

vegetarian protein sausages

The Green Deal and the European Climate Law have legally set a target of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This target requires a transition to a sustainable food system. Protein crops are very important in this transition.

Last year we wrote about the protein transition in Europe. Since then, the European Green Deal has set new targets. An important part of the Green Deal is the Farm to Fork strategy. This strategy will help with the transition to a sustainable food system. The Farm to Fork strategy favours the production and consumption of alternative proteins such as pulses and protein-rich oilseeds.

The Green Deal’s impact on EU production and trade

In the next few years, there will be changes at the local level and needs that will impact the global supply to the European Union (EU). You can expect more incentives to encourage local production in Europe. The EU wants to:

  1. become less dependent on the import of protein crops;
  2. create more sustainable agriculture in Europe; and
  3. increase plant protein in consumer diets.

Despite the EU’s effort to increase plant-protein production, it is unlikely that Europe will become fully self-sufficient. Food companies will continue to look for quality and affordable sources to help meet demand.

Targets to make agriculture more sustainable

Specific targets will help make agriculture more sustainable. At first, this will impact farmers in Europe. But the rules for imported products will also become stricter. Targets for European agriculture by 2030 include:

  • 50% reduction in pesticide use and risk;
  • 20% reduction of fertiliser use;
  • 50% reduction of nutrient losses while making sure the soil stays fertile; and
  • organic farming of up to 25% of agricultural land.

Europe is introducing these measures to deal with environmental issues such as climate change and the loss of biodiversity.

Europe must ensure a sustainable and healthy protein source. In the current market, animal protein is a large part of the European diet. But livestock is responsible for nearly 70% of the EU’s agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And the plant-protein farmers use to feed the livestock is mainly imported. Euroseeds states that domestic production only supplies 36% of the total demand for crude protein.

Increasing the potential of protein crops

To expand the use of plant proteins, we need research and development to support agricultural projects and product innovation. With this in mind, the EU has funded many projects, for example, the Smart Protein Project. This project aims to develop the next generation of smart protein. It looks at the potential of quinoa, fava beans, lentils, and chickpeas grown across different regions of Europe.

Improving local food security

At a local level, it is important to focus on the right protein crops and improve local varieties. This will help increase local food security and sustainable farming. In Malawi, smallholder farmers gained access to high-yielding chickpea and finger millet varieties through a breeding programme from the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). These varieties can yield up to 3 tonnes per hectare. Such projects are vital to keeping food production efficient and affordable. They also help maintain competitiveness at a global level.

Once you have a sustainable and competitive crop, supplying the European market can be the next step. Exporters should remember that the sustainability goals of the EU also apply to imported products. Soon, the EU will no longer accept products that are not sustainable, such as soybean from deforested areas.

More information

Find out about the trends affecting the European grains, pulses and oilseeds market in our trends study. Also, find out how these trends are visible in our demand study. Read our study on the EU Green Deal to learn more about expected policy changes and the impact on your business.

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ICI Business wrote this news article for CBI.

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