Neither environmentalists nor farming groups were overly enthusiastic about the compromise measure passed Thursday by the EP's Environment Committee, which caps the amount at 5.5 percent of European Union's transport fuel use by 2020.
The legislation endorses the controversial measure of "indirect land use change" in considering the effects of biofuel production on deforestation and world hunger, as well as carbon emissions produced in converting land for energy crops, primarily soybeans and rapeseed.
The European Union has a directive of using biofuels for 10 percent of its fuel consumption by 2020.
Farming groups had been pushing hard to scrap the idea of using ILUCs to limit how much of that content can be derived from traditional feedstocks, claiming it is an unproven science and that it deals an unfair blow to farmers who have invested heavily in feedstock production.
Anti-hunger advocates and environmentalists, meanwhile, were also unhappy because they have been seeking to eliminate the 10-percent goal altogether. The benefits of cleaner air from using biofuels are canceled out by the emissions produced by growing the feedstocks, they contend.
The measure approved last week retains the 10-percent goal, but calls for no more than 5.5 percent of it to come from energy crops, while no less than 2 percent must be produced from other sources, such as seaweed or certain types of waste.
A further 2 percent is to be attained from electric vehicles using power produced from renewable sources.
The European Commission had proposed allowing no more than 5 percent to come from first-generation agri-fuels. The EP's more industry-friendly energy committee in June passed a measure allowing 6.5 percent, while the center-right European People's Party had pushed for 7 percent or no cap at all, the European Voice reported.
The fairly one-sided 43-26 vote surprised many observers, given the strong opposition from the EPP and the European Biodiesel Board, which warned it would have a "devastating effect" on the industry, the newspaper said.
French Member of European Parliament Corinne Lepage, who shepherded the compromise through the committee, hailed it as a workable solution.
"I welcome the Environment Committee's decision to tackle the issue of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from indirect land use change by including them in the legislation, to cap first-generation agri-fuels and to promote advanced ones," she said after the vote.
Opponents said the policy won't address the real problem with biofuels -- the conversion of farmland to energy production.
"Today's vote falls short of what is needed to put the brakes on growing European demand for biofuels, allowing an expensive and failed policy to go on fueling hunger and land grabs in poor countries," Marc Olivier Herman of Oxfam International said in a statement. "In a world where almost 900 million people go hungry to bed every night, the support for biofuels should be phased out."
The measure now goes to a full EP plenary vote in September, by which time it is expected a phase-in timetable will be added.