May 5, 2015


Europe's ambivalence about use of GMOs in feed



The results of what is touted to be the most comprehensive review of studies on the safety of genetically modified crops came out in the Journal of Animal Science in October last year. The general conclusion: Feeding the birds GM crops "did not have any detrimental effects to the birds' health".


However, the European Commission seems to be missing the point, according to farmers and other stakeholders, as it adopted last month a proposal to allow European Union member states more freedom to restrict or prohibit the use of EU-authorised genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food or feed in their respective territory.


This new proposal comes in the heels of a new law that became effective last month, which grants national governments this same power to ban the cultivation of GM crops within their territories even if they may have been approved by the law-making body. 


Are these policies manifestation of Europe's ambivalence? As far as the president of the agri group NFU Scotland is concerned, they are--going against "the core principle of having common policies that operate across Europe".


"Approval of GM feed and food must remain at an EU-wide level and be firmly based on sound scientific evidence," says Allan Bowie.


Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of Copa-Cogeca, the Brussels-based group representing farming unions and co-operatives, agrees. "It is the principal political, administrative and legal responsibility of EU policymakers to defend and properly implement EU internal market and related legislation", he says.


Pesonen adds, "With the renationalisation of genetically modified authorisations and consequent restrictions on the free movement and use of products within the internal market, the commission has failed in its role and responsibility as 'guardian of the EU treaties'".


As it is now, EU's pig and poultry sectors rely on imported protein as a huge part of their rations, despite the fact that Europe as a whole is more wary in the use of GM crops for food and animal feed than the US, South America and Asia.


"Options for growing our own protein for animals remain limited so Europe will continue to be largely reliant on imports for the majority of its protein feed requirements. An estimated 90% of compound feed for the livestock sector currently contains GM material," Bowie says.


He adds that non-GM feed would be prohibitive and render sections of the industry unviable in case GM feed is not available in a member country that prohibit its use. "The price differential between GM and GM-free animal feed is already around 30% and supplies of non-GM feed are extremely limited", he warns.


Another issue that the EC has to contend with is whether the law on GM crop cultivation and the new proposal on the use of GM food and feed comply with the World Trade Organisation rules. "We are concerned member states could be open to legal challenge if taking up this option", a Scottish government spokesman said.


US Trade Representative Michael Froman has called the latest proposal "hard to reconcile with the EU's international obligations".

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