Scottish Union to Revive Stagnant GM Approvals

SCOTLAND - The European Union’s process for authorising the use of new GM varieties is paralysed and livestock farmers and consumers are set to suffer the consequences, according to National Farmers' Union Scotland(NFUS).
calendar icon 7 February 2008
clock icon 5 minute read

The Union has written to Scotland’s MEPs drawing their attention to a report published by the European Commission’s Agriculture Directorate last year which predicts rises in animal feed prices of as much as 600 per cent and a major reduction in EU livestock production.

The crux of the problem is the EU’s slow GM authorisation process, where a new variety takes on average two and a half years to be approved, but can take as long as a decade. This compares to an average of only 15 months in the US. This leads to a problem termed ‘asynchronous authorisations’, where a GM variety is approved for use in food and in the manufacture of animal feed abroad, but cannot be imported into Europe. The result is a sharp reduction in the amount of non-GM feed potentially available for import into the EU and which can be accessed by livestock farmers in Scotland and elsewhere in Europe.


In practice the impact of this slow EU approval process has so far been negligible. However, the situation is changing rapidly. The US is now cultivating a variety of GM maize and is expected to very shortly start growing a GM variety of soybean, the main ingredient of animal feed used in the UK. More worryingly, there are signs that Brazil and Argentina, the two major exporters of feed to the EU, are considering switching to new GM varieties. Previously they have been reluctant to do so because the EU market – which hasn’t approved new GM soybean varieties – is their biggest customer. However, China is emerging as a major soybean importer, offering a potential alternative market for Brazil and Argentina.

The European Commission report makes some horrendous predictions if this latter scenario, where the US, Brazil and Argentina approve and grow GM varieties of soybean before they are approved in the EU, becomes a reality. It forecasts vast rises in feed prices, the loss of a third of the EU pigs sector, half the poultry sector, a huge rise in meat imports and the effective end of meat exports.

Chairman of the NFUS Milk Committee, Willie Lamont, said that GM was obviously a sensitive issue and customer views and concerns have to be embraced. "The reality is that there is a science-based process for authorising GM varieties in the EU to ensure they pass all the necessary checks. However that system isn’t being allowed to do its job and, in the meantime, the world is moving on," he added.

“The feed market is already tight and the factors causing that - increased consumption and reduced land available to grow the crops - are irreversible. So to potentially close down a massive new sector of the market in future will have a catastrophic effect. As the Commission’s Agriculture Directorate points out, we will not be able to compete with foreign producers that have access to this feed and whose product can still be exported, our own production costs will be impossible to bear and product choice for consumers will suffer."

Still Time

Chairman of the NFUS Livestock Committee, Kelvin Pate, said that the impact of the paralysis in Europe’s GM authorisation process hasn’t been felt yet and there was still some time to avert a potential nightmare. "It hasn’t made sense for either the Brazilians or Argentineans to grow GM soybean because it would close off the EU, their biggest market. However, China is emerging as a global player in terms of feed imports. If they approve GM varieties soon and it is more profitable for South American countries to grow GM then we will be facing huge shortages of protein for animal feed which can’t be grown in the EU. This would decimate our livestock industry," he explained.

Europe’s livestock consume three times more feed that the community can produce. He said the problem was clear and that was needed was EU authorisation to do what it is supposed to.

Robin Traquair, Chairman of the NFUS Pigs Committee said that even a major upturn in Europe’s production of oilseeds and proteins could only replace 10-20 per cent of our imports of soybeans and switching from imports to home-grown product was not a viable option.

“We have all seen what has happened to feed prices as a result of shortage this year, they have doubled. The pigs and poultry sectors have already seen major downturns and if the scenario outlined by the European Commission became a reality we would export what is left of our industry; something which should be of massive concern to consumers,” he said.

Further Reading

More information - To view the EU Commission’s Agriculture Directorate by click here.
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