EU urged to review zero tolerance approach to GM products

Public Ledger -- The EU livestock sector faces huge problems – potentially even a collapse in output – if the EU does not urgently review its policy of zero tolerance for imports of non-authorised genetically modified (GM) products.

This was the warning issued today by Chantal Fauth, Secretary-General of the EU grain traders' association Coceral, at today's International Grains Council conference in London.

Ms Fauth claimed that the EU's intransigent attitude not only to the cultivation of GM crops, but also to commercialisation of any GM product which has yet to be approved at EU level, was running the risk of massive damage to traders and their customers alike. "There will be serious consequences for the livestock sector if EU policy is not radically changed," Ms Fauth warned.

She noted that the EU continued to have a big deficit in protein crops, importing around 16m tonnes of soyabeans and 24m tonnes of soyameal each year, together with significant quantities of maize by-products such as corn gluten feed (CGF) and distillers' dried grains (DDG).

But while the EU remained reluctant to embrace GM crops, biotechnology had taken off in a big way in major grain and oilseed supplier countries like the US, Canada and Argentina.

Ms Fauth pointed out that in 2007, 73% of the US maize crop was GM , as was 70% of the Argentinian crop. In the case of soya, the proportions were 91% in the US, 98% in Argentina and 57% in Brazil.

However, there was a large and growing problem with "asynchronous approvals" of new transgenic varieties, Ms Fauth commented. She noted that it typically took twice as long to approve new biotech strains in the EU than in the US.

This meant that products which were being widely grown in North and South America were unavailable to EU importers because they had not completed the authorisation process in the EU, and because of the high costs of ensuring strict segregation of authorised and non-authorised strains.

A problem of this type with the GM maize variety Herculex had led to a collapse in EU imports of CGF and DDG in 2007, contributing to a massive increase in feed costs for livestock producers.

Ms Fauth said it was vital that the EU rapidly implemented a code of practice being drawn by the Codex Alimentarius, which would set out rules for authorising the low-level importation of GM products which had already been safety-assessed in another country.