18 July 2018 | Online since 2003

16 February 2015

‘Very significant’ Non-GM planting trend reported

Reports from the United States of a move amongst growers towards non-GM planting have been described as “very significant’ by the Soil Association.

A number of reports from across the Atlantic seem to indicate that a growing number of farmers may be considering moving to organic and non-GM crops because of low commodity prices. It seems that American farmers believe that a move away from GM planting may enable them to gain a financial premium for their crops.

It is a trend that has been welcomed by Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, who told the Ranger, ”The Soil Association thinks this is a very significant development, and it is the first time that there has been a series of reports from different US states saying that sales of non-GM seeds for soya and corn (maize) are increasing.” He said that reports of increased interest in non-GM had come from both seed merchants and from farmers’ organisations.

He said the reasons behind the switch were partly but not wholly financial. “This beginning of a switch away from GM crops in the USA is happening because American farmers have discovered that GM crops are more of a liability than benefit to their business,” he said. “The cost of seed for crops where GM now dominates, such as soya, corn (maize) and cotton, has soared, becoming a significant part of farmers’ costs,” he said.

But Peter said that farmers had also become concerned about problems of resistance. “At the same time, after 15 years of growing GM crops, problems with resistant weeds (‘super-weeds’) and resistant insect pests are becoming very significant problems in some areas. Stories of American farmers having to revert to hand-weeding resistant weeds do not engender confidence in GM crops,” he said.

The reports from the United States suggest that non-GM crops have become more tempting for farmers because low prices for GM soya beans and grains have made the premium prices available for organic and non-GM crops more attractive. In an article in the ‘Organic & Non-GMO Report’, Gilbert Hostetler, president of Illinois-based Prairie Hybrids, was reported as saying, “Our non-GMO seed sales are significantly higher than last year.”

In the same article, Mac Ehrhardt, president of Minnesota-based Albert Lea Seed, said, “We are seeing a lot of demand for conventional corn. We took more orders for conventional corn seed by the end of last November than we did all last year.”

Wayne Hoener, vice president of sales for eMerge, an Iowa-based seed company, said in the article that interest in non-GM soya seeds was also strong. And Tim Daley, an agronomist at Stonebridge Ltd, an Iowa-based buyer of non-GM soya beans, said seed companies reported strong demand for non-GM seed.

Whilst better financial returns and concerns about resistance are said to have been important considerations in the move towards non-GM planting, the improving market for organic food appears to be another driver. Here in the United Kingdom a number of organic sectors have been reporting significant growth for some time. Whilst eggs stubbornly refused to follow this trend for a while, there has now been a revival in the organic egg sector.

Packers are reporting an upturn in demand for organic eggs. Last year Noble Foods, the country’s biggest packer, launched two new organic brands. One, Mac’s Farm, was a regional brand launched in the south east of England. The other was an organic version of Noble’s successful high welfare brand, happy egg. The Soil Association said that, according to figures collated by Nielsen on November 8 2014, organic egg sales were up by as much as 13 per cent by value.

Peter Melchett said, “The global market is becoming more difficult for GM crops, even though these are almost entirely destined for animal feed (soya and corn/maize) or fibre (cotton). Russia recently said that they would not grow GM food because, as the agriculture minister said, they do not want to ‘poison their people’. China has imposed significant restrictions on the import of a number of US GM crops.”

Peter said that in the European Union moves from GM to non-GM animal feed were continuing. Late last year, he said, the German poultry industry announced that it would be adopting GM animal feed but quickly had to reverse its decision at the insistence of German retailers. The second largest supermarket chain, Carrefour, had continued with its drive to remove GM animal feed from all of its livestock products.

He said that in the UK, Waitrose had retained a non-GM feed policy for poultry.

The move away from non-GM feed by a number of leading supermarkets in the UK was the result of the declining supplies and increasing cost of non-GM soya at the time. The poultry industry is reliant on soya for the protein element of the chicken’s diet, Europe is reliant on soya grown in North and South America and growers on the American continent had steadily been moving to GM planting

Opinion is divided on the issue of GM crops in the European Union. Within the last few weeks the European Parliament voted to allow individual member states to make their own decisions on whether GM crops should be planted within their borders. However, there are differing views within the nations of the United Kingdom on GM crops. “Although recent moves in the EU are being seen in England as possibly opening up the opportunity to grow GM crops, these same moves would allow Scotland and Wales to formalise their non-GM position,” said Peter Melchett.

Whilst England may press ahead with GM crops, Scotland and Wales have stated their opposition to GM planting.


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