The disruption to animal feed imports caused by Europe’s “zero-tolerance” policy on unapproved genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been exaggerated by industry, Friends of the Earth said May 4.
Last summer, several shipments of soy from the United States were blocked from entering Europe after authorities detected traces of unauthorized GM maize in the consignments, sparking fears of a feed shortage.
That led industry groups to warn that Europe’s food and livestock feed chain could lose 3.5 to five billion euros ($4.66 bn to $6.66 bn) in just six months, which would force EU livestock farmers out of business and meat production overseas.
But in a report sent to EU politicians, Friends of the Earth (FoE) said the scale of the problem had been deliberately exaggerated by feed importers and biotech companies who want a change in the European Union’s zero-tolerance policy.
Citing official EU data on confirmed contamination cases, FoE said a maximum of 66,000 tonnes of soybean and meal imports were rejected in 2009, equivalent to 0.2 per cent of the 32 million tonnes of soy imported into Europe last year.
About 70 per cent of the contamination cases originated from the United States.
The European Commission ended last year’s supply disruptions by approving the GM maize varieties that had caused the problems, but in March it announced plans to propose a more lasting “technical solution” by the end of this year.
The commission is expected to propose a tolerance margin of between 0.1 and 0.5 per cent on unapproved GMOs in feed and possibly food imports.
“The quantities of contaminated animal feed were so low that it cannot be argued that the EU’s zero-tolerance policy caused significant disruption,” the report said.
But industries affected by the contamination cases said while the huge economic losses predicted by some failed to materialize, the prospect was very real and hasn’t gone away, said Nathalie Lecocq of EU oil and protein meal association Fediol.
“We’re talking about commodities trade, and even with the best efforts, ‘zero’ is something that’s impossible to ensure, especially with growing GM production across the world,” she said.