The European Parliament has called for current trade agreements on oilseed and protein crops to be reassessed in a drive to put to an end the EU's dependency on imports for feeding its livestock.
The European Parliament adopted yesterday (8 March) an own-initiative resolution on "the EU's protein deficit," putting forward a series of measures to draw to a close Europe's long-standing dependency on imports for 80% of protein crops for animal feed, primarily from the US, Argentina and Brazil.
Such massive dependency on imports and rising feed prices make the EU livestock sector extremely vulnerable to price volatility and trade distortions, with feed price rises increasing farmers' production costs and squeezing the sector's profitability.
The House notes that the deficit in EU's domestic protein crop production dates back to previously established international trade agreements, in particular the 1992 Blair House Agreement between the EU and the US – which allowed the EU to protect its cereal production and in return allowed duty-free imports of oilseed and protein crops to enter the Union.
Following the 1992 agreement, EU protein crop producers experienced severe competitive disadvantages and production fell sharply, with European farmers and local processing business losing interest in, and, as a consequence, practical knowledge of cultivating them, notes the resolution, setting out the historical reasons behind the current situation.
Due to low demand for seeds and technical support, breeders and researchers also turned their backs on the crops, further adding to the decline of European know-how on protein crops.
Among potential measures to boost the bloc's domestic protein crop production, the Parliament calls on the European Commission to carry out "an appraisal evaluating the effects of current import tariffs and trade agreements on the various oilseed and protein crops" and produce a "detailed legal study on the current scope of the Blair House agreements on the production of protein crops in Europe".
Lawmakers also expect legislative proposals on reforming the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, due in autumn, to include protein crops in new policy measures and instruments to support farmers in improving crop rotation systems.
The Commission's November 2010 communication on the future of CAP highlighted the need to enhance protein crop production within a more integrated crop rotation system.
The Parliament's resolution cites studies showing that "improved use of protein crops in EU agriculture has the potential to make the supply of animal feed more reliable by making use of agro-environmental measures".
Agri-environment measures are currently at the centre of debates on the future of EU farm policy and are seen as a key tool to integrate environmental concerns into the future CAP, primarily by paying farmers to provide environmental services.
To examine the sustainability of farming practices in the country of origin of imported supplies, the EU executive is asked to establish "a monitoring mechanism on the origin of protein crops imported into the EU".
Lawmakers also urged the establishment of a framework for rural development measures in support of protein crop production and suggest offering incentives to cultivate fallow land for this purpose. Total EU protein crop production currently occupies only 3% of the bloc's arable land.
Lastly, the House called on the EU to fund research into breeding and supplying protein crop seeds in the Union.