France wants to regain its “food sovereignty” with a recovery plan for protein crops

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PARIS (Reuters) – France aims to increase the area it sows to protein-rich crops by 40% from 2022 and double it in 10 years to reduce its heavy dependence on soybean imports from America South, Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie said on Tuesday.

French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Ministry of Agriculture in Paris, France, December 1, 2020. REUTERS / Charles Platiau

France and other countries in the European Union import millions of tonnes of soybeans and soybean meal each year, mainly from Brazil and Argentina, to feed livestock, making them dependent on world prices, overseas business relationships and environmental practices.

“We have one goal: to regain some of our food sovereignty,” Denormandie told Reuters in an interview.

“Our focus today is clearly soybean imports from the Americas,” he said, adding that South American countries were the main source of soy protein in the EU.

A 40% increase in protein crops would equate to an additional 400,000 hectares of land to be harvested by 2023, the agriculture ministry said.

France imported 2.2 million tonnes of soybean flour during the July 2019 to June 2020 season, including 1.95 million from Brazil, making it the EU’s largest importer of flour Brazilian soybeans, according to official data. Soybean imports in 2019/2020 totaled 658,000 tonnes.

Within 10 years, France aims to double its total area of ​​protein crops to 2 million hectares, thus reducing its dependence on imports by 10 percentage points.

France, the EU’s largest crop producer, will invest a total of 100 million euros ($ 119.8 million) in aid over two years to encourage farmers to devote more land to protein crops and boost research, he said. High protein crops to encourage include soybeans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas, as well as beans.

ENVIRONMENT

Only around 50% of France’s protein crop needs are met by French production, Denormandie said.

“The second problem is that when you import soybeans from Latin America you (contribute to) deforestation and therefore, in addition to a sovereignty problem, you have an environmental problem,” he said.

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest peaked 12 years in 2020, data showed on Monday.

France has opposed the conclusion of a trade deal between the EU and the South American bloc of Mercosur countries due to environmental concerns.

Commenting on France’s goal of reducing farmers’ dependence on protein imports, Greenpeace said on Monday: “Unfortunately, the issue of overproduction of meat, eggs and dairy products has been completely removed. side. As long as the government refuses to tackle this problem, we can already say that this strategy will be doomed.

To improve their competitiveness against cheaper imports, French farmers will also benefit from additional subsidies approved as part of a proposal to reform the EU’s common agricultural policy, Denormandie added.

The plan is not intended to support plant protein for use in processed foods such as alternative meat, a ministry official said.

“There is obviously a political dimension to this plan in the reaffirmation of France’s protein sovereignty,” Arnaud Rousseau, head of the French group of oilseed and protein crop producers, FOP, told Reuters.

“Everyone is aware that soy imports will continue but the ambition is realistic and achievable.”

(1 USD = 0.8348 euros)

Report by Sybille de La Hamaide and Gus Trompiz, edited by Louise Heavens, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Jan Harvey

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