A Protein Plan for Europe is due to be presented at the high-level conference in Vienna at the end of November. Slow Food urges the European Commission not to compromise any further, and to ensure a sustainable supply of protein crops for human consumption and take into consideration all sensitive issues raised by civil society. Slow Food recognizes that a new Protein Plan could be an important development opportunity for Europe, but if it fails to address intensive animal production and broader options to diversify protein production, it risks becoming a lost cause. The Commission’s report on the development of plant proteins in the European Union will examine the current supply and demand of plant proteins in the EU and the potential for future development.
A Threat to Small-scale Producers
Slow Food had an opportunity to outline its position on a Protein Plan at the final expert workshop organized by the Commission, where it drew attention to the importance of developing and supporting locally adapted varieties of legumes still grown in Europe, instead of just focusing on further soy expansion.
Laura Solinas, the Producers’ Coordinator for one of the legumes in the SlowBeans network, who represented Slow food at the workshop, stressed that Europe has several traditional and locally adapted pulses, which are mostly preserved by small-scale farmers in difficult environments. “There is a real risk that small-scale farming of high-value legumes will not be taken into account in the current debate because it is not considered economically efficient.” Solinas noted that would mean “a complete disregard of the benefits that these legumes bring to a local ecosystem and to biodiversity.”
Recently, the European Coordination of Via Campesina and Eco Ruralis published a report, indicating the threats posed by soy production to small-scale producers across Europe. The report draws attention to a tendency of western agribusiness corporations to invest in agricultural land in Central and Eastern Europe, which is less utilized and highly fertile, and can be exploited for protein crop production.
The organizations assert that these investments do not create much of a benefit locally and threaten “to further marginalize small-scale peasant producers and family farms.”
Broader Solutions for a Protein Plan
Replying to the Stakeholder Survey – A Protein Plan for Europe, Slow Food has expressed its concerns that the current Protein Plan for Europe will not broach the question of intensive animal production, which has raised EU demand for protein crops. If the plan disregards a clear connection between animal and protein plants, instead of proposing a comprehensive approach, it risks providing only a quick fix to a complex problem.
Currently, the majority of soybeans produced in the EU are used in the livestock sector. Around 4/5 of soy is imported, mainly from Latin America. High-demand for soy from the EU has led to land destruction and degradation in the main soy exporting countries.
Slow Food believes that reducing EU production of animal products would significantly reduce demand for protein crops. It also encourages the support of not only soy but other legume crops and acknowledgement of the agronomic and environmental benefits of more locally adapted legume crops.
Slow Food, together with other civil society organizations, issued a letter to EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan with a list of recommendations for the EU Protein Plan and new CAP reform earlier this year. The Commission was urged to include a strategy that sets measures to reduce production and consumption of animal products, assist farmers in transitioning away from intensive animal farming and support diverse agroecological farming and the production of diverse and underused protein crops for human food, and to adopt an EU Action Plan on deforestation and forest degradation.
Indre Anskaityte, Slow Food International