From the answers given by Minister Kaag this spring in response to parliamentary questions from the Dutch ‘Partij voor de dieren’ (Party for the Animals) about the increase in forest loss in the past year, you can conclude that producing biodiesel from European rapeseed oil reduces deforestation elsewhere in the world.
Less European offer
Due to the decrease in biodiesel production from rapeseed, less European rapeseed was crushed (pressed) in 2020, so that less protein from rapeseed was available for the animal feed industry. According to the minister, this decreased supply is probably compensated by imported soy from North and/or South America, which is partly associated with deforestation. The conclusion we can draw from this is that biodiesel made from European rapeseed oil counteracts deforestation in other parts of the world.
In fact, this also applies to the soy oil from soybeans grown in Europe: the Danube soy. The ban on the use of soybean oil in biofuels limits the profitability of soy farmers in Europe. In doing so, it also introduces a barrier to the European Protein Strategy and the opportunity to reduce dependence on imports. A farmer can only produce profitably if all components of the crop that he grows are given a destination.
Unfortunately, when calculating the contribution of biodiesel from agricultural crops, including rapeseed, to the solution of the climate problem, a – albeit small – risk premium for indirect land use change is taken into account. For European rapeseed oil, however, a discount would be more logical, now that the production of biodiesel from rapeseed oil actually reduces deforestation. Europe’s protein trade balance influences indirect land use change (ILUC) elsewhere in the world and thus also the pressure on agricultural areas that are yet to be developed. The expected global growth in wealth and population will lead to a greater demand for agricultural commodities and probably also for more agricultural land.
This directly refers to another major European problem, which unfortunately does not get the attention it deserves: The total area of EU farmland has been declining for 30 years, forcing agricultural production to other parts of the world, where land and resources are cheaper. This overseas land is still used as grassland or is a very beautiful ecosystem, with a lot of biodiversity and a lot of carbon storage in the soil. Because the EU is unable to reverse this trend, we are becoming increasingly dependent on agricultural imports of proteins in particular, increasing the pressure on these valuable areas. Concerns that biofuels from food and feed crops lead to land-use change and deforestation appear to be unfounded. Research shows that the current legislation prevents such negative consequences. The European Commission’s Fit for 55 program also provides for a significant reduction in agricultural area in Europe. Without dietary adjustments, this will inevitably lead to more imports and greater pressure on valuable areas.
A sufficiently developed market for European rapeseed protein and rapeseed oil can therefore prevent deforestation. Instead of looking for the solution against deforestation by imposing obligations, such as an origin survey, on overseas production countries, we can also look for the solution in our own kitchen! For the benefit of both South America and Europe.
Rob Groeliker, Managing Director Viterra Botlek and Rostock & Global Lead Environment Viterra