The decision of the Assembly Environmental Minister to ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops in the province doesn’t have any immediate impact on local farmers – but it does deny our growers access to technologies which are accepted as standard in the main food producing countries of the world and it is a further indication of a “sentiment over science” approach which could lead to major issues for livestock production in Europe.
With 90% of the feed materials used in Northern Ireland arriving by ship the provinces livestock sector is totally reliant on the global grain market.
Over 2 million tonnes of feed materials enter the province each year from all corners of the globe and much of this material is derived from genetically modified crops grown in other countries. All of this material has undergone a rigorous risk assessment by the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) and has been approved for use in food and feed production within the EU.
The EU Commission is currently debating a proposal which will allow each region within the EU to decide whether to permit the use of GM materials for food and feed in their country under “compelling grounds of public interest”. The reason cannot be scientific as the EFSA have already deemed them to be safe.
All member states are strongly reliant on GM imports for the viability of their livestock industry with 80% of feed produced containing some GM material. The EU cannot replace the 32 million tonnes of imported soybean products which are derived from GM crops. Maize and maize by-products from the starch and ethanol industries would also be affected. EU feed and food business operators act in a global commodity market, where GM technology is a given and the proposal could jeopardise the future of EU livestock farming.
The feed industry offers non-GM feed supply chains for customers who are willing to pay the premium for segregation and identity preservation; therefore, there should be no need for any interference by policy-makers to prohibit GM raw materials, as market solutions already exist.
The distortion of trade which would result from some regions regulating against the use of GM would drive up prices and cause chaos throughout the EU agri-food sector. It would end the free trade throughout Europe and result in food shortages and imports of livestock products from third countries (where they would almost certainly have been fed on GM materials). Farming organisations and trade bodies across the EU are vigorously opposing the proposals – concerned about the logistics and labelling issues and the potential for massive distortion of trade.
Since implementation will be a devolved issue there is potential for disruption of trade even within the British Isles with England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland all making their own decisions.