18 July 2018 | Online since 2003

3 September 2011

GM feed import relaxed

A new regulation designed to prevent further damaging disruption of feed imports has now been adopted by the European Union.

The change relaxes the EU’s previous policy of zero tolerance towards non-authorised GM contamination of feed imports – a policy that resulted in imports of soya from the United States being disrupted in 2009. The new regulation permits up to 0.1 per cent of non-EU approved GM in imported feed.

The European Commission said in a statement, "The regulation ... addresses the current uncertainty EU operators face when placing on the market feed products imported from third countries."

The EU’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) agreed to relax the existing rules at a meeting in February. In the months since the committee’s agreement no objections have been raised to the measure by the European Council or the European Parliament and as a result of that the measure has now become a regulation.
Disruption of imports has particularly serious consequences for the poultry sector, which is reliant upon imports of soya from North and South America. In 2009 several shipments of soya beans from the United States were impounded following the discovery of small traces of unauthorised GM maize. With shippers reluctant to send cargoes to Europe only to have them turned away, the issue has threatened to cause major problems for the livestock industry. Peter van Horne, economic analyst with the International Egg Commission, warned of huge increases in feed costs unless the issue was resolved.

Following the disruption of the shipments in 2009 the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mariann Fischer Boel, warned European agriculture ministers that the problem would get worse unless something was done. She said at the time that the reported incidents were the tip of the iceberg.

"For the moment, the issue of low level presence of EU-unathorised GMOs concerns soya imports from the USA and, as far as feed is concerned this summer, it’s only one unapproved GM maize variety that is involved. However, we have to be aware that in the future the problem will get worse as it may extend to other products and other countries.

The Joint Research Centre of the European Commission is talking about an increase in the number of GM currently commercialised worldwide from now around 30 to 120 in 2015." She urged the EU to find a solution to the problem.
The solution developed by the EU was to introduce a tolerance threshold of 0.1 per cent non-EU approved GM content. The GM crops in question must have been approved in a non-EU producing country and an EU authorisation request must have been lodged with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for at least three months.
EFSA must also have issued an opinion that the presence of GM products at 0.1 percent does not pose risks to health or the environment.

Some people in the livestock industry fear that the measure introduced by the EU may not go far enough to overcome problems of disruption, although environmental campaigners have accused the EU of caving in to GM industry lobbying by reversing its zero tolerance policy. Some environmentalists argue that the effect of consuming GM crops is unknown and they say the varieties in question have not completed the EU’s own safety assessment process.

The EU currently imports some 45 million tonnes of protein crops a year, much of it soya beans and soya meal from Brazil, Argentina and the United States destined for use in animal feed. The majority of soya beans grown in these countries are GM varieties developed by biotech companies such as Monsanto, although most of the poultry sector in the United Kingdom is required by supermarkets to use non-GM soya. It is a requirement that adds significantly to the feed bill of free range egg producers because of the price premium now paid for non-GM soya and it is a requirement that the British Free Range Egg Producers Association and other industry bodies would like to see removed to ease the current financial pressures on producers.

The 0.1 per cent tolerance threshold introduced by the European Union will only apply to imports of animal feed and not human food, despite warnings from traders and exporting states that it is impractical and costly to separate global grain supplies into those destined for humans and those for animals.

A majority of EU governments are reported to be in favour of a similar threshold for food imports, but the Commission has said it currently has no plans to table such a proposal.


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