Friday, June 11, 2010

What Do Americans Call Rapeseed?

I noticed the rapeseed fields as we first came over land - probably Holland then Germany - after flying over the Atlantic and we saw bright yellow rapeseed fields three weeks later when we flew from Berlin to Paris. And we kept seeing rapeseed fields from the train and from the car when we were outside of the big cities - but not even that far outside of Berlin or London.  While I kind of like the bright yellow, our British friend found the bright yellow fields much too garish.

So I wanted to find out what was going on with all the rapeseed.  It turns out rapeseed is also known as Canola and it is also used as a  biofuel which explains why there is so much of it planted in northern Europe.  From an interesting story in sciencecareers about a Polish researcher:

Rapeseed has increased in importance in Europe and China as demand for biofuel has risen. In 2000, Polish farmers harvested about 450,000 hectares of rapeseed; in 2009 they brought in more than 810,000 hectares. Planted in the fall as a winter cover crop, rapeseed flowers in the early spring. But the molds that cause oilseed stem canker -- Leptosphaeria maculans and L. biglobosa -- attack in the fall, so there's a long gap between the time fungicides need to be sprayed and when the crop matures.

Below are some more excerpts from some different websites plus a few more pictures I took on the trip.

From  Soyatech:
Brassica napus Linnaeus—known as rapeseed, rape, oilseed rape, and in some cultivars, Canola—is a bright yellow flowering member of the Brassicacea family (mustard or cabbage family). It is a mustard crop grown primarily for its seed which yields about forty percent oil and a high-protein animal feed.

Seed Type and Common Varieties
Since 1991, virtually all rapeseed production in the European Union has shifted to rapeseed 00 (double zero), with low content of erucic acid and low content of glucosinolates. The production of rapeseed in the European Union is still “conventional”, that is does not contain GMO. [genetically modified organism]

Worldwide Rapeseed Production (million metric tons)
1965 5.2
1975 8.8
1985 19.2
1995 34.2
2006 47.0

From Fediol The European Union Oil and Proteinmeal Industry:

Rapeseed oil and meal
As the oil content of rapeseed is around 40%, the processing is made in two steps: pre-pressing plus solvent extraction, or only by pressing. The rapeseed meal is an important protein source in compound feed for cattle, pigs and poultry.
Rapeseed oil contains 98% of tri-esters of fatty acids and 2% of sterols and tocopherols. It has a uniquely low content of saturated fatty acids and a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids, offering a good balance of fatty acids: 60% oleic, 20% linoleic, 10% alphalinoleic. It is also a rich source of Omega 3 and Omega 6 linolenic acids.
The low erucic variety is widely used for applications such as salad dressing, margarines and sauces. The high erucic variety is used in a range of technical purposes, for example bio-degradable lubricating oil as an alternative to mineral oil based lubricants. The use of rapeseed oil methyl esters as a substitute for diesel fuel takes large volumes of rapeseed oil.
Rapeseed meal, with only 37% protein content can hardly substitute soymeal in animal feeding. They represent 7% of the vegetable meals consumed in Europe and can enter feed ratios in the proportion of maximum 15% for chickens and 20% for porks and milk cows.
The situation for rapeseed oil in the EU is in equilibrium with a production and consumption of 5.5 million tonnes. The EU production of rapeseed meal rises 7.6 million tonnes.
[Charts from Fediol.]

You can see from the charts that the EU is the largest single producer of rapeseed, which explains why we saw so much of it.  And the winter crop blooms in early spring when we were there - April and May. 

Indexmundi lists only one top company: Archer Daniels Midland (ADM.)  The price in US dollars per metric ton was down in May 2010 to 864 from a January high of 929. 

ADM was the company featured in the movie The Informant for international price fixing.  The film, according to Ira Glass, in the 2009 rebroadcast of the show originally broadcast in 2000,  was inspired by the original 2000 broadcast.  This is a really good, but also chilling show.  You can listen to it here.  Definitely worth it to get a glimpse of international price fixing and how the FBI works.  There's also a book by Kurt Eichenwald who speaks to Ira Glass on this show. 

The show documents the FBI investigation of international price fixing of lysine.  I don't know for sure whether rapeseed is used to make lysine, but the

Proceedings of the World Conference on Oilseed Technology says
Comparisons of amino acids as percentages of the protein (NX6.25) in oil meal show that soybean is the richest in lysine (6.2%), closely followed by rapeseed (canola) (6.0%) and sunflower (3.0%).
So I'd think there was a good chance that rapeseed might have been part of all this.

I should also mention that ConAgra whose campus we walked through in Omaha is mentioned on the tape as one of the customers of ADM that was getting ripped off by ADM by the price fixing.


  1. I only knew rapeseed as something that I fed to my canary when I was 9.

    I have since heard that there is a high carcinogen problem with canola oil so I don't cook with it. Nice to know that it's a biofuel and going into the air, instead!

  2. The detriments of rapeseed and rapeseed oil can be apparent now after the costly trade war. By it's content, rapeseed and rapeseed oil consumes the nutrients in the soil and in the food which it is cooked with, while not allowing the biosystems enough time to process sugar, acids, to break down the proteins. In the long run, if the earth encounters a virus outbreak, the earth geosystem will be left defenseless. Nutrients, in the form of minerals are what the earth geosystem protection against erosion and degradation.


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