The German and European feed markets benefit significantly from the production of rapeseed-based biodiesel fuels. Rapeseed meal is generated as a joint product of oil production in this value chain, the Union zur Förderung von Oel- und Proteinpflanzen e.V. (UFOP) has explained. GM-free rapeseed meal is the most important source of protein for animal feeding in Germany. In future, extracted rapeseed meal could also play an important role for the human diet, UFOP has underlined, referring to research projects the association supports.
Germany is the main EU country for rapeseed processing, with around 9.0 million tonnes of rapeseed processed in 2019. This production generated just less than 3.8 million tonnes of rapeseed oil and just less than 5.2 million tonnes of rapeseed meal. Because in Europe, rapeseed varieties are exclusively bred without genetic manipulation (GM), and only licensed if bred without GM, the byproduct rapeseed meal is also GM-free. This fact encourages the use of rapeseed meal, especially in dairy feeding. Rapeseed meal can replace soybean meal completely without any loss in milk yield. Today, most milk and dairy products are labelled “without GM”. The strong consumer demand for these products therefore supports regional production and processing of rapeseed – which is entirely in the interests of environmental and climate protection. At the same time, it reduces the reliance on imports of GMO soy and GMO soybean meal considerably. UFOP has calculated that 5.2 million tonnes of rapeseed meal are the equivalent of a soybean area of approximately 1.6 million hectares.
Whereas rapeseed meal has become a staple in animal feeding, sales of rapeseed oil are tied to its use in the biofuels market. The association has stated that supply of rapeseed oil by far outpaces the receptiveness of food markets (edible oils, convenience products). If future demand for rapeseed oil were to shrink because biodiesel is no longer counted as a contribution towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector, this would obviously have repercussions on rapeseed processing. In other words, two thirds of today’s rapeseed meal production, approximately 3.4 million tonnes, would no longer be available. Imports of GMO soy would be needed to fill this gap. In purely arithmetic terms, this would translate to a soybean area of 1.1 million hectares in the past year. Consequently, sustained rapeseed cultivation in extended crop rotation systems with grain reduces the pressure on land in the countries of origin.
UFOP has contended that this effect is given too little attention in the current debate on the future biofuels policy. Instead, there are iLUC and “food-or-fuel” debates that don’t draw on hard facts and from which policymakers should finally free themselves.
UFOP has expressly welcomed the protein plant strategy adopted by the European Union and German government. Rapeseed, by far the most important regional source of protein in the EU, is an absolute must in this strategy, UFOP has stressed. Complemented by grain legumes, rapeseed and sunflowers could ensure a more diversified crop rotation together with flowering plants. Biodiversity and soil fertility could be improved. This is why UFOP has called on policymakers to take a holistic view instead of hastily ruling out necessary land use options. UFOP has also directed this criticism at the Vice President of the EU Commission, Frans Timmermans, whose approach to implementing the Green Deal is leading to even more restrictions and competition-distorting conditions for arable farming. The association has called on the Vice President to take into account the general potential regional added value has for sustained arable farming. According to UFOP, sustainable biofuels from European production should be an integral part of this farming system.