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LESS SOY, MORE PASTURES: solutions to feed european farm animals locally

17 July 2010

Fighting Europe's soy dependency for improving development in South, decreasing global warming, benefiting health and sustainable family farming in Europe.

LESS SOY, MORE PASTURES Solutions to feed european farm animals locally Fighting Europe's soy dependency for improving development in South, decreasing global warming, benefiting health and sustainable family farming in Europe « In 2007, the EU-27 countries together imported 24.8 million tonnes of soy meal, 15.5 million tonnes of soybeans and almost 1 million tonnes of soy oil » to feed its cows, pigs, chicken and hens to produce meat, milk, cheese or eggs. Nowadays, Europe produces only a quarter of its needs in vegetal proteins . How has Europe become dependent regarding animal feed? After the second world war, thanks the Marshall plan, Europe imported the intensive maize/soy model from the USA. Then the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), starting in 1962, decided to exclude animal feed from any tariffs, contrarily to cereals, beef, milk. Then EU animal production abandoned its own production of plant proteins, for importing them cheaper from the USA and southern countries. Therefore, “As a result, the system soon began to generate huge surpluses, not only in animal products but also in cereals, as land that would normally have been used for fodder production was sown to cereals” which had a higher guaranteed price. “The EU turns imported animal feed into surpluses”, which are then exported in third countries. The different CAP reforms, instead of resolving this absurd situation, increased the EU dependency on plant proteins, massively produced now in South America. This situation does not even profit to small and medium-size farmers in developing countries. On the contrary, rural communities are destroyed by the unsustainable soy monoculture expanding in South America. This industrialized agriculture model, where North and South are close connected can not cope with the challenges we are facing today on the social, environmental and economical levels. This model is responsible for a large part of deforestation , huge GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions (especially if Indirect Land Use Change, import of animal feed and export of animal products are taken into account). It leads also to great soil erosion and intense pesticides use. The soy cultivated in Americas is largely genetically modified (GM) (64% of the soy production in South America). The GM feed imported in Europe is very controversial and opposed factory farm lobby and the European public opinion, whose majority refuses GM food. Europe has to move away from its dependency in vegetal proteins and from this industrial model: this brought enough human/environmental disasters and very bad work conditions in developing countries. It also reinforced the dominant positions of feedstuffs and meat transnational companies. Europe can grow its own vegetal proteins At the beginning of March 2010, Dacian Ciolos becoming Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, questioned upon this issue, declared that soy can't be cultivated in Europe. But he forgets that Europe used to, and still can grow its own vegetal proteins. Legumes production has never been so low, despite their high level of proteins. To cultivate them again instead of importing soy would not only permit to avoid the bad effects listed before, but they would have also other positive consequences. One of the most important impact is a reduced use of chemical nitrate fertilizers : legumes have a natural ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. This provides a consequent reduction in nitrate fertilisers need, which represent 63% of the chemical fertilizers applied to crops ... And around 22% of the total energy used on farms! Nitrous oxyde (caused by nitrate fertilizers) is in France the second source of GHG emission, with 9% of the nationwide emissions. We should add to those figures the GHG savings realized by not producing and avoid transporting nitrate fertilizers and soy, as well as the GHG costs applied to soy cultivation. While keeping the same production, the change from imported soy to legumes would cause a reduce of 41% in soy imports in France. A greater cultural rotation, linked with the cultivation of plant proteins, is also a natural way to reduce plant diseases, and therefore lower the use of pesticides. This is of economical interest for the farmers (less imports of fertilizers and soy, less pesticides use) and of environmental interests, as states the same French study : « legume farming could contribute to a reduction in the phytosanitary pressure, in particular the use of herbicides, and improve soil fertility and hence improve farm yields as well as maintaining the biodiversity, notably pollinating insects. » For an example, Netherlands Akkerbouw Vakbond (NAV) has recently launched a programme about a lupin variety coming from the Andes, used for feeding pigs. It costs just a bit more than importing unsustainable soy, but resolves all the problems listed before. To produce less milk and meat with better economical and environmental results The present agro-industrial system, supported by agricultural policies, reap what has been sowed : According to Eurostat the number of farms in the EU dropped by 25% during the last 10 years (2000-2010) in Europe. In the same time, farm prices have dropped and farms had constantly to intensify and specialize. Farmers have become more dependent of the agro-industry. As a result today farmers are unable to live from their production in the north, thrown away from their land in the South and global animal diseases are regularly threatening the whole production. Getting out of this system is also one of the major stakes linked with the re-localisation of plant protein production. There is a vast range of examples and experiences in Europe of alternative production systems which are more sustainable on economical, environmental, social and nutritional fields. Animal production has to be more autonomous, consume less inputs and develop better agricultural practices. A study conducted in Western France on dairy farms shows same economical results between farms with the maize/soy model and more autonomous farms, comparable in technical terms. The autonomous farms base their animal feed on grass and protein plants (for example clover growing together with grass), instead of buying imported soy and cultivated maize. To sum it up, the autonomous farms produce three times less, but as they use 7 times less inputs and have 8 times less labour costs, the final resulting accounts of those farms is almost the same, and even a very little bit better for the autonomous ones. But they get 2,64 times less CAP subsidies than the conventional ones ! Therefore, autonomous systems are by very far more environmental-friendly, and economically more interesting. And farmers who have switched from conventional to autonomous system of production also point a clear improvement in their work conditions. More sustainable family farmers would then be necessary than with the present system and that would be favorable to developing and developed countries, where unemployment rate is growing and rural exodus a problem. The debate of the high level of meat consumption in EU and developed countries must also be raised, as it is related to health problems, demand growth in developing countries and the agro-industrial model. According to the FAO, around 11 vegetal proteins are necessary to obtain one beef or sheep protein, and around 4-5 for poultry or pigs. As meat demand constantly grows in China and other developing countries, it is putting more pressure on soils, production and food prices. If the production system and consumption habits do not change, there is no possibility for humans to face those challenges. Whereas directly human-consumed vegetal proteins instead of animal ones would multiply by 5 to 10 the efficiency of cultivated areas Producing less meat in Europe and keeping it, especially for beef and sheep, in all regions with permanent pastures, will have positive effects on environment, health and hunger. Positive impacts in the North as well as in the South First of all, implementing those changes in the production systems would solve the problems of soy intensive monoculture and exportation to Europe . But the benefits would go much further on many fields. Socio-economical benefits in the South : To decrease soy monulture will reopen space for people to grow their own food and stay or come back to their land.. This would reinforce their food sovereignty and weaken the power of the agro-food companies, relying on international trade. Environmental benefits : Globally, reduced GHG emissions would be observed by implementing these agro-ecological systems. This would lead to less deforestation in the south, no ILUC, less emissions due to transport and chemical fertilizers, less release of methan thanks to more sustainable animal production level and model, less use of inputs, less pollution in general (nitrates in water, pesticides...), and biodiversity increase. Economical benefits : In the South, people would be able to grow their own food and supply first local or regional markets. By earning their living from their land, they would no more be pushed to migrate to city slums. Implementing more autonomous systems of production in Europe and recovering self sufficiency in vegetal proteins would also largely decrease European surpluses, which is necessary to put an end on dumping towards southern countries. Other benefits : Better animal welfare, less animal diseases due to industrial production, re-use of disappearing animal breeds not adapted to “concentrationary” system, less GM soy cultivation, and a change towards a more "organic" way of production would go along with this change. How to implement those necessary evolutions? The need to reform CAP and global trade. As developed before, the CAP, during the last 50 years, has favoured European soy dependency as well as the production of surpluses in animal products. In order to reinforce greater domestic protein growth and more autonomous production systems, the CAP has to be reformed and turn its support towards a productive system which better respectsmore respectuous of humans, animals and nature. ECVC and FOEE have made important proposals towards the necessary evolutions of the CAP . The US-EU Blair House Agreement in 1992 and the WTO rules implemented since 1994 participated in reinforcing the import/export industrial system, and therefore have to be changed. European farmers need to be able to live from their production: then farm prices have to be stable and linked with European production costs. for this, production and market should be regulated, tariffs should be put to avoid cheap soy imports, and at the same time dumping should be banned (export at prices below the European costs of production). Domestic vegetal protein production should be favoured thanks to targeted subsidies and support, due to its multifunctional benefits listed before. On the other side, the agro-industrial system should cease to receive any support from the CAP. Strict environmental rules should be implemented and more generally good agro-ecological practices promoted and sustained. Growing protein plants to feed animals would permit to solve the problems raised by intensive soy production in the south, and European dependency towards animal feed. A change towards more autonomy in the economic system of agricultural production would also allow farmers in the north as well as in the south to live better from their activities. Therefore, present Agricultural policies and trade agreements have to be changed : in the future, farming should switch from being part of the problem, to become a solution. This document is part of the project " feeding and fuelling Europe" co-funded by the European Commission - DG DEV

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