Germany’s environment and agriculture ministries are reportedly working on restrictions on biofuel production so more grain can be used as human food, as agricultural markets remain tight due to the war in Ukraine. EURACTIV Germany Reports.
Together with Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir, Environment Minister Steffi Lemke is currently seeking to reduce the production of grain or oilseed-based biofuels, Lemke told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper on Friday (29 April).
Agricultural raw materials such as rapeseed, cereals and beets have often been used to produce additives mixed with climate-damaging fossil fuels to improve their CO2 balance.
“Agricultural land is limited in the world, and we urgently need it to feed ourselves, as the war in Ukraine dramatically demonstrates,” Lemke also said. From her point of view, agricultural land should be used for food production rather than the reservoir, she explained.
The Minister for the Greens also pointed out that Germany had already decided to no longer recognize diesel with added palm oil as an environmentally friendly biofuel. From now on, it also wants to further reduce the use of agrofuels in human and animal food.
Lemke’s party colleague Özdemir has expressed similar views on several occasions recently.
The proposal must be approved by the cabinet
When considering whether to use agricultural raw materials for food, animal feed or bioenergy, the “food first” principle prevails, Özdemir said following a meeting with federal agriculture ministers in early April.
The Greens ministers are also supported by Development Minister Svenja Schulze of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). In Germany, 5% of arable land is used for the production of biofuels, she told the Handelsblatt newspaper.
“If we manage to reclaim this land step by step for food production, it would be a victory for food security,” Schulze said.
It is not yet clear to what extent Transport Minister Volker Wissing of the liberal FDP would support Lemke’s initiative. A permanent exchange between the ministries is ongoing, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transport told EURACTIV.
“We need renewable fuels, especially for ships and planes, but also for road transport,” the spokesperson added, without commenting on the details of the content.
“The options for action in this area are vast: from advanced biofuels to electricity-based fuels, each in liquid or gaseous form,” he added.
Land use debate
The war in Ukraine and the turmoil it has caused in agricultural markets have recently revived the debate in Germany and Europe on biofuels and their impact on food security.
Due to the loss of agricultural exports from Ukraine and, in part, from Russia, environmentalists in particular are calling for bottlenecks in world markets not to be compensated by more agricultural production. Instead, they call for more agricultural raw materials already produced to be put on the plate rather than in the tank.
Researchers from Princeton University also criticized the high land consumption of energy-rich crops grown for biofuels in a recent study.
However, such arguments have been dismissed by the biofuel industry as “ridiculous”, which also points out that biofuel production does not only produce fuel but also food and animal feed.
The oilseeds and protein crops industry also criticized Lemke’s decision.
In a statement, the German Union for the Promotion of Oil and Protein Plants “categorically rejected a change to the existing regulations on maximum biofuel quantities”.
Behind the use of rapeseed oil for biodiesel hides “a production and processing structure that has developed over decades and is now closely linked to other industries, including the food industry” , the union also said.
According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, biofuels covered around 6.5% of Germany’s total fuel demand in 2020, including nearly three million tonnes of biodiesel and 1.2 million tonnes of bioethanol.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]