The European Union imports nearly a third of its plant protein – mostly soy – but about half of EU soy imports could be replaced by European-grown soy in the next five to ten years, according to Matthias Krön, Donau Soja. During the Foodvalley Summit Proteins of the Future 10 October in the Netherlands Matthias Krön is one of the keynote speakers. 

Donau Soja is a non-profit that aims to improve the production and use of protein in Europe. Currently, just 2-3% of EU arable land is used for grain proteins like soy, peas and fava beans, compared to 14% of the global total, meaning that European farming systems tend to be unbalanced when it comes to the nitrogen cycle, says the organisation’s president and managing director, Matthias Krön.

“We are working to change the European agriculture model, which for the past 30 years has become dependent on imported soy and imported nitrogen fertiliser,” he said. “We have nearly stopped producing beans and legumes in Europe and started to import them from the Americas – and Europe has become very good at producing corn and wheat. […] In theory, there’s nothing wrong with it, but nature doesn’t like it. We have reached a ceiling of crop productivity.”

Krön says that adding more legumes into crop rotations would improve productivity and reduce dependency on nitrogen fertilisers – a move that also makes sense as the EU becomes increasingly strict about the use of agricultural chemicals.

“We are importing about 36 million tonnes of soy into the EU,” he said. “…We believe that in the next five to ten years we can replace about 50% of that with European soy. I’m quite sure it’s going to happen. There is a strong push from farmers and there is a strong push from consumers.”

About 86% of plant protein imported to the EU is genetically modified soy, mainly from South America, and nearly all is used for animal feed. It tends to be cheaper than European non-GMO soy, which Krön says is very competitive with South American non-GMO soy.

“What we would like to do is acknowledge our impact outside the EU and stop destroying the rainforest,” he said. “Of course this is important from a climatic and environmental point of view, but also if imported soy is produced unsustainably our farmers can’t compete.”

On the consumer side, European demand for non-GMO food is gaining ground, and in Germany alone, non-GMO business is estimated at €10 billion. It is legal to sell GMO foods in Europe, but companies need to label the presence of GMOs above 1%, meaning that most choose to avoid them altogether. However, meat and milk from animals fed GMO soy sidestep the issue as they do not need to be labelled.

In addition, consumers increasingly are looking for locally grown food – and Krön says that includes locally grown animal feed.

“We see strong market support for European farmers to grow more legumes,” he said.

Meet Matthias Krön during the Foodvalley Summit Proteins of the Future
Program & registration:
Foodvalley Summits Proteins of the Future & Sports & Nutrition
10-11 October Ede, The Netherlands

About Matthias Krön
In 2000 Matthias Krön became CEO of the Mona Group of companies and began a process of changing the traditional dairy company into a leading producer of organic and gmo-free non-dairy products such as soya milk-, rice milk- and almond milk products.

In 2011 he stepped down as CEO to concentrate on developing the Soya Associations. The Austrian soya association was founded in 2008 as an initiative of the Austrian soy businesses. In spring 2012 the International Danube Soya association was established. Both associations elected Matthias Krön as chairman. Krön advocates a sustainable, regional and gm-free protein supply in Europe.

In the last five years the Danube Soya Association has been the driving force behind the expansion of European soya and legumes production, proposing a multi-faceted protein transition as part of the transition to a more sustainable, gmo-free and European protein supply and farming system.
With offices in 8 countries, strong focus on research and dissemination of research, best practice development and certification of European Soya the Danube Soya Association has become a major driving force for change in the European food system while working with its members to managing this change.