To maintain functioning, sustainable, and resilient food supply chains, Europeans must make the ‘best possible use’ of its agriculture, especially with regard to the cultivation of plant-based proteins.
This is the view of agricultural ministers of France and Austria, Julien Denormandie and Elisabeth Köstinger, who are urging the Commission to work out an EU-wide protein strategy.
“Due to the capability to fix nitrogen from the air, increasing the production of legumes or protein crops is a response to the dependencies in mineral nitrogen and plant-based proteins, but also to address environmental dependencies in mineral nitrogen and plant-based proteins, but also to address environmental issues,” they wrote in a joint declaration to Brussels.
“Moreover, the increased cultivation of legumes will contribute to a more sustainable and diversified agriculture, less dependent on external mineral fertilizer inputs.”
An EU-wide approach
A plant-based protein strategy would align with the European Commission’s ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the ministers suggested, by addressing current environmental and climate challenges facing the agricultural sector.
Further, promoting legumes would ‘enhance food security and sovereignty across the bloc, all the while decreasing Europe’s dependence on imports. In so doing, it would also limit the risk of ‘greater deforestation in third countries.
France and Austria are well placed to propose the Commission develop an EU-wide strategy, having both developed national protein strategies. Both of these aim at increasing sustainable production, leveraging the positive impacts of the cultivation of plant-based proteins on the climate and the environment, and address food processing capacities, research and innovation.
However, both Member States believe more can be done at-scale. Enhancing the domestic cultivation of plant-based proteins can be a way to mitigate challenges such as deforestation, biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation in countries outside the EU, they wrote in the declaration, while ensuring high environmental, health and quality food standards in Europe.
The ministers are therefore calling on the Commission to build upon its report on the development of plant proteins in the EU, published in 2018, and to work out a European protein strategy, taking into account the national efforts of Member States.
So what is required across the bloc? “We have to strengthen domestic production of plant-based proteins that meet our high European standards; shorten transportation routes with regional supply chains, ensure the logistical development of the sector and secure a functioning and regional value chain including food capacities for food and feed,” noted Denormandie and Köstinger.
Making protein crops ‘fit for future’ through the use of effective plant breeding tailored to the individual needs of all actors – from farmer to processor and consumer – is also required, as is the promotion of the diversification of protein intake by eating legumes from local production in line with official recommendations on nutrition and health, they continued.
“Such strategy should be in line with and support the goals of the Green Deal and cover all aspects from boosting sustainable production to securing an effective processing sector for food and feed. This should also include the support of research and innovation.”