On December 1, 2020, the Minister of Agriculture and representatives of the oil- and protein-crop and livestock-farming sectors signed a charter announcing the launch of a national strategy to boost vegetable-protein production and consumption. In exchange for the sectors’ commitments to reach specific numbered targets, the government will earmark €100 million from the agricultural stimulus package for that purpose, in addition to investments from PIA4 and Bpifrance.
“Exceptional times call for exceptional measures: to counterbalance the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the government has established a €100 billion stimulus package, €1.2 billion of which will be allocated to agriculture and agri-food businesses. “
Those sectors has three challenges to meet: reinforcing France’s food sovereignty, speeding up our agro-ecological transition and adapting our agriculture to climate change. The fact is that the health crisis revealed our food system’s vulnerability stemming from French agriculture’s significant dependence on intrants (particularly animal feed and fertilizer) imported from outside the EU. Vegetable proteins seem to offer a promising lever for change, so the government decided to allocate €100 million to developing them.
But what exactly do we mean by “vegetable protein”? The label covers both legumes (pulses) – like soybean, wheat and peas – and oil crops, like canola, sunflower and linseed, among others.
- Increasing food autonomy and developing the supply of local products for dried vegetables
Vegetable proteins tend to be used as livestock feed, but they are also making their way onto people’s tables more and more. And they are indeed a cornerstone of food transition. Numerous studies shows that changing our food habits by increasing vegetables as a source of protein brings significant advantages, both nutritionally and for the environment. In addition, the vegetable-protein market to consumers grew steadily from 2013 to 2019, from €6.9 billion to €10 billion, according to the Vegetable Protein Study and Promotion Group.
Reducing our dependence on protein-rich imports
Yet proteins – for food and fodder – account for only 4% of France’s total cultivated area. The government’s goal is to double that figure by 2030, particularly in order to reduce our dependency on imports from non-E.U. countries. Because the fact is, France currently imports nearly half of its protein-rich vegetables (essentially in the form of soybean meal) from outside the E.U. In addition to the food-sovereignty issue, this goal would also enable us to reduce the environmental impact of long-distance imports, including so-called “imported deforestation,” (when one country’s imports contribute to deforestation elsewhere). Legumes also allow farmers to reduce nitrogen fertilizer use, because of the plants’ ability to draw nitrogen from the air and “fix” it in the soil. Reducing nitrogen fertilizer use will also lower our greenhouse-gas emissions.
The vegetable-protein plan, with its €100 million budget, should enable France to become a world leader in vegetable proteins for food by the year 2030. In order to achieve that, it includes five distinct categories of aid measures: (I) investment in agro-equipment for farms, including money earmarked for over-sowing (20M€), (ii) investment in structuring and developing the sector (50 M€) including support for investing in private research to develop new varieties (an extra 5 M€ allocated), (iii) support for R&D and innovation in the sector (20 M€), (iv) encouraging the general public to include more legumes (lentils, chickpeas, etc.) in their diet, especially for children, in accordance with PNNS (National Nutrition and Health Plan) guidelines (3 M€) and (v) a contribution to Bpifrance’s support for the sector’s businesses (2 M€).
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