Why does Europe import so much soy?

The revised EU Feed Protein Balance Sheet published by the European Commission in May 2019 shows that in terms of overall protein needs Europe is 79% self-sufficient. However, in the category of ‘high-pro’ feed materials (30%-50% protein) Europe only has 29% self-sufficiency and therefore relies strongly on imports, which are for a large part filled by soybean meal.

The EU annually imports approximately 30 million tonnes of soybean meal equivalent. This figure has been fairly stable over the past 30 years. Soybean products have become the principal source of protein-rich feed materials for the feed industry worldwide, setting the benchmark for all other vegetable protein sources. Soybean crops score uniquely high on the key nutritional characteristics of what makes a high-quality protein source for feed manufacturing for many types of farm animals: amino acid profile, protein concentration, nutrient density, digestibility and palatability. But also their affordability, consistency and all-round availability, including the possibility for using price hedging tools, make it the first choice for both animal nutritionists and feed buyers.

The EU initiative to boost local plant protein production is an attempt to increase the self-sufficiency of the protein-rich feed materials that the EU currently needs to import. This is certainly a welcome initiative for livestock farming in Europe, particularly from an agronomic rotation perspective. Nevertheless, the expectation is that Europe will remain reliant on significant amounts of soy imports, even in the long term.