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In the livestock feed industry, as elsewhere in British society, there will be a wide range of opinions about genetically modifi ed feed materials. Recent developments in Brussels have brought the issue into high profi le. The EU Commission’s current zero-tolerance policy regarding

unauthorized genetically modifi ed materials means that the discovery of such material in a shipload of feed ingredients – ‘adventitious presence’ in other words – results, regardless of the level found, in rejection of the whole cargo. As a result, importers and traders, given the rapid advance of new GM varieties and the EU’s snail-like authorization procedures for new GM materials, have tended to steer clear of imported GM maize and soya, particularly from the US. Cargoes that do arrive are high-priced, partly as a result of procedures undertaken to reduce the risk of adventitious presence to a minimum and partly to refl ect the risk premium required in cases where such procedures prove ineffective and the cargo is rejected, resulting in a signifi cant cost penalty. For the feed and the livestock industry, the cost implications are

also high. As Feed Compounder went to the printers, certifi ed identity Non-GM HiPro March-April delivery south of England was being quoted at £382 with FEMAS Non-GM HiPro North of England at £384, values signifi cantly ahead of non-identity preserved materials. This increases feed manufacturing costs to the detriment of livestock producers, already reeling under the burden of near-record wheat prices. Following discussions that started in October 2008, the EU fi nally

brought forward a proposal in November 2010 which set a tolerance level of 0.1 per cent for adventitious presence, provided that certain specifi c conditions were satisfi ed, including the requirement that the material concerned should have been approved for use in the country of origin and should have reached an appropriate stage in the EU’s tortuous authorization procedure. The 0.1 per cent level was considered to be the lowest level at which intra and inter-laboratory repeatability criteria could be satisfi ed. However, in early February, the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health failed to reach the qualifi ed majority required for its adoption. It is possible that, by the time that this article is read, the proposal

will have secured agreement at a scheduled meeting just after Feed Compounder closed for the printers. However, France was included in those member states voting against a qualifi ed majority on the grounds that further discussion of the proposal was needed and that further risk assessment analysis should be undertaken. The latter could delay a decision even further. In addition, there is understood to be a legal challenge to the original proposal which, coming on top of the existing controversy over EU plans to devolve certain aspects of the


GM authorization process to member states, could put the possibility of a science-based degree of tolerance for any EU unapproved GM found in feed ingredient imports out of sight. Opponents of the proposed 0.1 per cent tolerance level or, at

least those with no hidden agenda, need to take a number of facts on board. The GM maize and soya varieties covered by the proposal are all

varieties that, although they have not been authorized for import into the EU, have been approved elsewhere. They are, in the majority of cases, widely grown and used without apparently detrimental effects on either human and animal health or on the environment; at least according to any rational scientifi c criteria. While the current zero-tolerance policy remains in place it will

make a signifi cant contribution to the soaring cost of feed manufacture, already driven up by the rising cost of feed grains from which no immediate relief seems in prospect. The failure to approve the 0.1 per cent tolerance level thus represents a blow to the hopes of those UK and EU livestock farmers who rely for their protein requirements on imported maize, soybeans and their derivatives but who have been unable, for whatever reason, to recover the entirety of their increased feed costs from their customers. Those who reject lifting the zero-tolerance provision must also take

note of the apparent inconsistency of their position in that imported livestock products from third countries may have been fed on a ration including, or consisting entirely, of feed ingredients unauthorized for import or use in the EU. The inconsistency of this position is highlighted by the blocking of a proposal permitting the import of feed materials containing minute amounts of unauthorized materials. The demands from the anti-GM lobby, for the feed industry to

source its imports from countries like Brazil that are deemed to be more inclined to a non-GM policy, are increasingly unrealistic. According to one recent analysis, three-quarters of Brazil’s soybean crop, now moving towards April’s harvest, has been planted with GM seeds. So has more than half the country’s maize crop. Brazilian agribusiness consultants say that 2010-11 has seen the highest adoption rate of transgenic crops in the history of Brazilian agriculture and that the proportion of GM plantings is likely to increase further over the next few years. Ideally, it is to be hoped that the Standing Committee on the Food

Chain and Animal Health will have, by now, endorsed the Commission’s extremely conservative proposals as regards the adventitious presence of unauthorized GM material. But, if it has not, it needs to do so soon. Facts need to be faced, for otherwise, the consequences for the EU livestock sector will be incalculable.

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