German government mulls limiting biofuel production

It is not yet clear to what extent Transport Minister Volker Wissing of the liberal FDP would support Lemke's initiative. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Germany’s environment and agriculture ministries are reportedly working on restrictions for biofuel production so more grain can be used as human food as agriculture markets remain strained due to the war in Ukraine. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Together with Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir, Environment Minister Steffi Lemke is currently looking to reduce the production of biofuels made from grain or oilseeds, Lemke told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper on Friday (29 April).

Agricultural raw materials such as rapeseed, grain, and beet have often been used to produce additives mixed with climate-damaging fossil fuels to improve their CO2 balance.

“Agricultural land is limited worldwide, and we urgently need it for food, as the war in Ukraine dramatically demonstrates,” Lemke also said. From her point of view, agricultural land should be used for food production instead of for the tank, she explained.

The Green minister also pointed out that Germany had already decided to no longer recognise diesel with added palm oil as environmentally friendly biofuel. Now she also wants to reduce further the use of agrofuels in food and animal feed.

Lemke’s party colleague, Özdemir, recently expressed similar views on several occasions.

Proposal needs cabinet approval

When considering whether to use agricultural raw materials for food, animal feed or bioenergy, the “food first” principle prevails, Özdemir said following a meeting with federal agriculture ministers at the start of April.

The Green ministers are also supported by Development Minister Svenja Schulze of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). In Germany, 5% of arable land is used for biofuel production, she told the newspaper Handelsblatt.

“If we succeed in reclaiming this land step by step for food production, that would be a win for food security,” Schulze said.

It is not yet clear to what extent Transport Minister Volker Wissing of the liberal FDP would support Lemke’s initiative. A permanent exchange between the ministries is ongoing, a transport ministry spokesperson told EURACTIV.

“We need renewable fuels, especially for ships and aircraft, but also for road transport,” the spokesperson added, without commenting on details on content.

“The options for action in this field are broad: from advanced biofuels to electricity-based fuels, each in liquid or gaseous form,” he added.

Biofuels’ impact on food security debate resurfaces amid Ukraine war

The war in Ukraine has reignited the “food vs fuel” argument surrounding crop-based biofuels, with allegations that the EU’s demand for ethanol and biodiesel exacerbates food security concerns. The biofuels industry has branded the claims “ridiculous”.

Debate on area use

The war in Ukraine and the turmoil in the agricultural markets caused by it have recently rekindled the debate in Germany and Europe about biofuels and their impact on food safety.

Because of the loss of agricultural exports from Ukraine and, in part, Russia, environmentalists, in particular, are calling for bottlenecks on the world markets not to be compensated for by more agricultural production. Instead, they call for more of the already produced agricultural raw materials to be put on the plate instead of in the tank.

Researchers at Princeton University have also criticised the high land consumption of energy-rich crops grown for biofuels in a recent study.

However, such arguments have been dismissed by the biofuel industry as “ridiculous”, which also emphasises that biofuel production does produce not only fuel but also food and animal feed.

The oil and protein crop industry also criticised Lemke’s move.

In a statement, Germany’s Union for the Promotion of Oil and Protein Plants “emphatically rejected a change in the existing regulations on maximum quantities for biofuel.”

Behind the use of rapeseed oil for biodiesel is “a production and processing structure that has grown over decades and is now closely networked with other industries, including the food industry,” the union also said.

According to data from the agriculture ministry, biofuels covered around 6.5% of Germany’s total demand for fuel in 2020, including almost three million tonnes of biodiesel and 1.2 million tonnes of bioethanol.

Germany to use controversial biomass amid energy crisis

Biomass will be used to meet particularly high energy demands, according to the German government’s so-called “Easter Package”, which aims to use agricultural raw materials for energy production in response to the war in Ukraine.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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