Sky high cereal prices and compounders being forced to import half of their cereals from the other side of the world for poultry feed. One German researcher believes this is set to come true if the EU pushes ahead with its ambitious biofuel policy.

Hans-Wilhelm Windhorst of the University of Vechta in Germany presented this chilling assessment at the recent International Egg Commission conference in London.

He predicted that one quarter of all arable land in the EU will be needed for biofuel crops if the EU is to meet its own target.

Growth in the EU is being driven by the EU Directive 2003/30. Currently, biofuel accounts for 1.2% of total transport fuel use and under the directive, the target is to increase this to 5.75% by 2010.

In its calculations, the EU Commission assumes 50% would be imported and the rest home produced. This equates to an extra 8.25m hectares (20.4m acres), which can be met by 4m hectares (9.9m acres) from set-aside land, 3m hectares (7.4m acres) newly cultivated land and 1.25m hectares (3.1m acres) former sugar beet area.

But under proposals, the EU could see the biofuel target increase to 20% by 2020 and 25% by 2030. Prof Windhorst calculates that this 2030 target will require a land area of 36m hectares (89m acres), equating to 31% of the total arable land in the EU.

But he questioned the effect on feed and food production. “Is the EU Parliament really aware what a huge impact this fuel policy will have on food production?

“In Germany alone, one fifth of arable land will be needed for corn and rape production to meet the 5.75% target, which is a huge amount for a country with 80m people to feed,” he stressed.

If the more ambitious targets do go ahead, Prof Windhorst believes EU countries will be forced to import more feed to meet demand, possibly as much as half of the total used.

The impact could be lower if new technologies come on stream, such as biomas to liquid and biofuel from ligno-cellulose (wood). But with wood, this will be very land consuming.

“The green credentials of biofuels are being overplayed,” he said.

See Poultry World editor Richard Allison’s view on his blog