Renewable Ethanol is A Win-Win for The EU’s Farm-to-Fork Strategy

The EU’s new Farm-to-Fork Strategy aims to build a more sustainable European agriculture and food system. Importantly, it highlights the potential for a truly circular, bio-based economy in which advanced biorefineries that produce bioenergy such as renewable ethanol, protein feed for animals, sustainable fertilisers and bio-chemicals in “the transition to a climate-neutral European economy and the creation of new jobs in primary production.”

The Farm to Fork Strategy is at the heart of the European Green Deal aiming to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly. Food systems cannot be resilient to crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic if they are not sustainable. We need to redesign our food systems which today account for nearly one-third of global GHG emissions, consume large amounts of natural resources, result in biodiversity loss and negative health impacts (due to both under- and over-nutrition) and do not allow fair economic returns and livelihoods for all actors, in particular for primary producers.

Putting our food systems on a sustainable path also brings new opportunities for operators in the food value chain. New technologies and scientific discoveries, combined with increasing public awareness and demand for sustainable food, will benefit all stakeholders.

The Farm to Fork Strategy aims to accelerate our transition to a sustainable food system that should: Have a neutral or positive environmental impact, Help to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts. Reverse the loss of biodiversity, Ensure food security, nutrition and public health, making sure that everyone has access to sufficient, safe, nutritious, sustainable food. Preserve affordability of food while generating fairer economic returns, fostering competitiveness of the EU supply sector and promoting fair trade.

A proposal for a legislative framework for sustainable food systems will be put forward to support implementation of the strategy and development of sustainable food policy. Taking stock of learning from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Commission will also develop a contingency plan for ensuring food supply and food security. The EU will support the global transition to sustainable agri-food systems through its trade policies and international cooperation instruments.

Photo by Benjamin Herrol

That’s a good start. But the Strategy should give more attention to the contribution already being made by European biorefineries in realising these sustainability goals – a contribution that could be increased with the right policy moves as the EU moves along the Green Deal timeline.

The biorefineries that produce renewable ethanol are working, real-life examples of the bioeconomy in action. European feedstock grown by EU farmers is used to make several important products: including not just renewable low-carbon fuel but also food, high-protein GMO-free animal feed, alcohol for use in hand sanitiser, and captured CO2 for beverage use.

Promoting this domestic biorefinery system would empower EU climate ambitions, improve food security and ensure a strategic supply chain. The COVID-19 crisis has underlined the importance of such network of local biorefineries, which in Europe were able to shift production rapidly to alcohol for use in hand sanitisers.

Crops cultivated for European ethanol use only a small percentage of EU utilised arable land, and renewable ethanol is produced almost entirely from European feedstock. Furthermore, by creating both fuel and feed, EU ethanol production offsets the need to import animal feed from countries where deforestation is actually happening.

EU renewable ethanol production is currently responsible for 50,000 direct and indirect jobs. Promoting it as part of Farm-to-Fork and the larger Green Deal is a win-win for Europe, putting farmers and rural communities to work for Europe’s long-term environment, energy and food security.