Jean-Philippe Puig, Chief Executive Officer of Sofiprotéol
Jean-Philippe Puig, Chief Executive Officer of Sofiprotéol

 

An opinion column from Jean-Philippe Puig in Les Echos: “Biofuels are being wrongly accused”

16/07/2013
Jean-Philippe Puig put his point of view in a column in the daily publication Les Echos on 16/07/2013 entitled “Biofuels are being wrongly accused” following announcement by the Sofiprotéol Group of the restructuring of its biodiesel activities.
ean-Philippe Puig, Chief Executive Officer of Sofiprotéol

Translation of a column published by the french newspaper Les Echos.

On 4 July, the Sofiprotéol Group, of which I am CEO, had to take the difficult decision to initiate a restructuring of its biodiesel production activities .  We have been forced to make a 20% reduction in our production capacities, causing the loss of more than 80 jobs at two sites.  We are of course doing everything we can to transfer the people affected to other units within the company.  But nevertheless this is the first time that we have been obliged to “tighten our belts”.

And why? If we are taking such painful measures it is quite simply because we are the victim of political choices that we think are based on flawed reasoning.

These arguments result from the famous ILUC (indirect land use change) factor, that has been brandished in all debates by the opponents of biofuels as being the ultimate cause of global deforestation and also the reason for rises in the raw material prices for foods.  But these calculations have been based on science which, over the months, has proved to be erroneous and is now being regarded as unreliable.  Indeed, the source, an American study by the International Food Policy Research Institute, was recently invalidated in a scientific analysis by INRA which demonstrated some basic errors in the calculations.  So it is on these questionable foundations that both Paris and Brussels have launched initiatives to put an end to biofuel production.

The vote by the Environment Committee of the European Parliament, in favour of the report by Corinne Lepage which suggested a 5.5% cap on the biofuel incorporation rate, is the most recent example.  It constitutes a further serious blow to our industry.  If these proposals are confirmed, they will undermine the collective efforts that have been made by this sector, which for more than twenty years has received support from governments of both persuasions in our country.

We invested more than a billion Euros in this sector precisely because we felt we had government backing, and for the long term!  Is it possible to talk about industrial policy when three years after asking the industry to invest, the politicians then decide to change the rules, leading to the shut-down of sites and the destruction of jobs?

Those who govern us – I repeat, in both Brussels and Paris – not only gave their support but encouraged us to grow our capacities.  Who will now dare to invest in the second generation when there is no guarantee that the legislation will be sustained?  Do we need to remind the decision-makers again that our researchers, who are working for example on alternatives to petroleum-based plastic materials, have a need for long-term visibility?

And who benefits from all this?  In any case, not Sofiprotéol employees, nor farmers throughout France who deliver their rapeseed and sunflower crops to our partner cooperatives; not the investors who have trusted us, nor the French trade balance (because now it will be necessary to import Russian diesel) and finally not the environmentalists, because the discontinuation or reduction of rapeseed production will inexorably lead to the import of genetically modified soybean proteins!

We are the global leader in biodiesel production, and we are a French group supported by the farming community.  We are now threatened with soon having to leave our markets to the Indonesians and Argentines because Europe wants to act as the ecological policeman of the planet!

Biofuels, which generate more than 20,000 jobs in our country, are being held responsible for deforestation, even though France destroys the equivalent surface area of one of its départements every ten years because of urban development…. Why should we condemn the oleochemicals sector linked to this production, and which could procure an advantageous role for our country in the green economy in which we have been pioneers?