EU biofuel vote could hit oil seed rape growers

Scottish arable growers could be among the losers after the European Parliament narrowly voted to cut road transport biofuel targets, it was claimed yesterday – only for a Scottish MEP to say that the debate was far from over and that the issue was likely to return for a second reading.

With 80 per cent of the Scottish oilseed rape crop destined for export to be converted into biodiesel, the implications of the decision to set a limit of 6 per cent on transport fuels sourced from cereals, sugars, starch rich crops and oil crops by 2020 rather than the previous figure of 10 per cent could be considerable, industry commentators stated.

The English NFU estimated that the move could put £700 million of UK farm-gate revenue at risk and Copa-Cogeca, the umbrella voice of European farming organisations, warned that such a move threatened the future of the EU biofuels industry and ignored the realities of its production, as well as threatening market stability, green growth and animal feed supplies.

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Copa-Cogeca secretary-general Pekka Pesonen said: “Farmers and industry have invested huge amounts of money in the sector after the 10 per cent target was agreed in 2006. A U-turn is totally unacceptable. The move jeopardises the EU’s energy and climate change targets, feed supplies for animals and 200,000 jobs mostly in rural areas.”

He insisted that the co-products from conventional biofuel production, such as rapeseed meal, beet pulp and dried distillers’ grains, play an important role in the feed protein market and added that a new study had shown that the EU biofuel production was not threatening food supplies nor causing food price hikes in the rest of the world.

But Scottish MEP Alyn Smith, a member of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, welcomed the vote as a move towards tackling rising food prices and carbon emissions from the impact of biofuels which compete directly with food and animal feed.

“Scots farmers produce food, not fuel,” he said. “We rightly have a world-class reputation for quality produce, and at a time of rising food prices globally it is plain wrong-headed to encourage the world’s farmers to feed our cars instead of our people and animals.

Smyth also stated that the parliament voted for a new target that 2.5 per cent of transport fuels should come from so-called “advanced biofuels”, including straw, animal manure, mixed municipal waste, algae and other technologies which did not compete with food usage.

“On top of this, other biofuels – sourced from cooking oil and animal fat waste – will count double towards the 10 per cent target encouraging technologies where Scottish companies have an established advantage.”