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Food supply disruptions mount: Sunflower oil supplies likely to run out “in a few weeks”

March 27, 2022
Food & Drink

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its second month, knock-on disruptions to the global food supply chain continue to rage on. In the EU, Parliament is stressing the need for diversified trading partners to avoid over dependence on any one country. It urgently calls for a “reboot” of the EU’s food production strategy that will make it more independent from these imports.

Meanwhile, the UK’s food standards agency is warning consumers that products labeled as containing sunflower oil may instead contain refined rapeseed oil, due to the shortages of this commodity. This is done to avoid the risk of accidental consumption by consumers allergic to this ingredient substitution.

EU’s “reboot” of food production strategy
The European Parliament is calling for immediate help in the form of food supplies to Ukraine and to bolster the EU’s food production strategy ensuring it’s more independent from imports.

FoodIngredientsFirst speaks to Hana Raissi, press officer of the European Parliament, about the specifics of the EC agricultural imports from Ukraine and Russia.

Among agricultural supplies from Ukraine to the EU, she outlines that maize averaged at 9.2 megatons (57% of supplies), rapeseed at 2 megatons (42% of European imports by volume), sunflower seeds at 0.1 megatons (15% of supplies), sunflower cake at 1.3 megatons (47% of imports) and wheat at 1 megaton (30% of imports).

“In Russian imports, wheat averaged at 0.5 megatons (11%), rapeseed cake at 0.2 megatons (50%), sunflower cake at 0.9 megatons (34%) and sunflower seeds at 0.3 megatons (35%),” she highlights.

In addition, the Parliament is urging that the EU should open food corridors to and from Ukraine, serving as an alternative to closed Black Sea ports. It adds that Ukrainian farmers should also be provided with seeds, fuels and fertilizers.

A more independent EU
MEPs say that the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian attack on Ukraine have made it apparent that the EU needs to reduce its dependence on imports from dwindling suppliers.

They call for a diversification of supply from third countries. In the short term, it demands that the European Commission assesses how to cushion the impact of high fertilizer prices on farmers.

To reduce the dependence on fertilizer imports in the long term, the Parliament proposes a switch to alternative organic sources of nutrients for agriculture and support for agricultural innovation.

Given the disruption to agricultural imports, MEPs further demand domestic food production be increased. Agricultural land should be used only for the production of food and feed, they assert.

To address immediate needs, MEPs want it to be possible for farmers to use fallow land for the production of protein crops in 2022.

“The Commission should also provide support for worst-affected sectors and should mobilize the crisis reserve of €479 million [US$527 million],” stresses the European Parliament.

“Member states should also, according to MEPs, be allowed to grant broad, rapid and flexible state aid to operators on the agricultural market.”

Warnings about sunflower oil substitution
Sunflower oil is among the agricultural commodities that have become increasingly difficult to source because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In particular, the Dutch market – which relies heavily on this ingredient for its fried foods cuisine – is currently bracing for impact, with some reports suggesting the country could run out of its supply in just four to six weeks.

In the UK, the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland have advised consumers that some food products labeled as containing sunflower oil may instead contain refined rapeseed oil.

The majority of the UK’s sunflower oil comes from Ukraine and food businesses here are reporting that supplies of sunflower oil are likely to run out in a few weeks with some businesses already experiencing severe difficulties.

This has led to some food manufacturers urgently replacing sunflower oil with refined rapeseed oil before being able to make the change on the label.

“FSA and FSS have been working hard to understand the recent pressures on our food supply chain and the interim measures needed to make sure certain foods – like crisps, breaded fish, frozen vegetables and chips – remain on sale here,” remarks Emily Miles, FSA chief executive.

“We have looked at the immediate food safety risk of substituting sunflower oil with refined rapeseed oil – particularly to people with a food allergy – and it is very low. We know allergic reactions to rapeseed oil are very rare and – if they do occur – are mild.”

Food aid for Ukraine and EU
Given the severe impact the war in Ukraine will continue to have on food security for Ukrainians, the European Parliament stresses the need for robust long-term humanitarian food aid for Ukraine from both the EU and at the international level.

According to a recent RaboResearch report, malting barley prices in western Europe are currently 50% above levels seen a year ago. This is anticipated to have a major impact on maltsters, for whom barley inputs make up 65% of costs.

Similarly, the price of wheat sourced from the Black Sea region – also known as Europe’s “breadbasket” is skyrocketing. These circumstances were previously referred to by UN secretary-general Antonion Guterres as the advent of a “hurricane of hunger” and a “meltdown of the global food system.”

Even prior to the Ukraine-Russia conflict, nutrition and food companies have been grappling with supply chain disruptions and inflation, which have sent world food prices peaking at a ten-year high earlier this year.

By Benjamin Ferrer


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