EU politicians have voted in favour of plans that could put the brakes on the growth of first generation biofuels, such as those derived from cereals and oilseeds.

In the Renewable Energy directive meeting on Thursday (11 September), the European Parliament‘s industry committee backed a target of obtaining 10% of the EU’s road transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020, but pared back the target for first generation biofuels from 5.75% by 2010 to 4% by 2015, due to sustainability concerns.

Instead, it said that a proportion should come from “new alternatives that do not compete with food production.” That could include biofuels made from waste, algae or non-food vegetation, hydrogen or electricity from renewable sources.

The European Biofuels Board estimated the reduction in the first generation biofuel target would effectively cut the EU’s biodiesel requirement by 4m tonnes per year and send a negative message to companies looking to invest in the sector.

“If this decision is confirmed in the forthcoming plenary vote, it will strongly affect the credibility of the European Parliament, especially with regard to past commitments,” Raffaello Garofalo, secretary general of the EBB, said in a statement.

“It is sad that legislators have been swayed by superficial arguments linking biofuels to food price rises.”

The EBB said the EU biodiesel industry had already built over 15m tonnes of production capacity in order to meet the 5.75% target validated by the EU back in 2003. “If the Parliament will go back on its word on 5.75%, regressing to a 4% target, should our industry dismantle over 4m tonnes (the 1.5% difference) of its existing capacities?”

“Can this be the acceptable result of a new directive on the promotion of renewable energy sources?”

The committee’s decision requires backing from the full parliament and EU governments before becoming law. The draft EU renewables law is due to be voted on by the European Parliament in full in October.