Pioneer work from German poultry integrator Gebrüder Stolle has brought the first chicken meat products onto the market with a label that reads “produced without gene technology”.

“This is not only a first for GMO-free poultry meat in Germany but is a world premier as far as we know,” announced Albert Focke, communications manager with Stolle, which has its own feed mills, parent flock producers and contracted poultry farmers with an output of around 450,000 chickens and 10,000 turkeys daily.

Market share in Germany for Stolle chicken products, many of them portioned, cooked and deep frozen under retail outlets’ own labels for the convenience sector, is put by the company at 20 percent for the first quarter of 2009.

Some 100,000 chicken are now labeled as produced without gene technology. This number is set to rise this year as other Stolle production plants are fully certified under new German legislation that now allows such claims, following inspection by independent bodies.

Naturally, the GMO-free output from the family firm’s three poultry processing plants plus delicatessen production facility, with headquarters in Gudensberg, northern Germany, depends on the guarantee of non-GMO feed from the company-owned feed mill.

Like the poultry plants, this is not only HACCP certified but also produces according to the International Food Standard (IFS) and is subject to control under the German quality system Vitacert. The feed mill, producing under the name “BEST 3 Geflügelnährung GmbH”, in the village of Twistringen, is dedicated to producing for contracted Stolle poultry growers, with ownership shared by Stolle and the farmer producer groups involved.

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The mill also runs a full traceability program, which means that its feed batches can be traced back to individual components. The system is also applied to the poultry meat portions produced by Stolle, which means that these can be traced back to the respective parent flocks involved.

Longterm GMO-free suppliers

Stolle makes all it own feed and, for the last 12 years, has refused to incorporate any ingredients that contain, or could contain, GMO material.

Mr Flocke explains: “The company feed has been continuously tested independently to make absolutely sure of this standard. Now, the European Community GM Food and Feed Regulation 1829/2003, finally passed into German law last year, means we can actually label  our products as GMO-free, if production has been certified under the regulations.

“This naturally entails independent testing of feed components from the country of production, right through the shipping, storage and milling process. We employ a recognized and fully independent institute ‘Intertek’ with its global network of more than 1,000 laboratories and offices and over 23,000 employees in more than 100 countries to supervise and conduct this careful checking procedure.”

Brazil soya only

The company notes that it has, briefly, considered using feed protein sources other than soya bean as guaranteed non-GMO material in poultry feed, but was unable to find anything that equally met all-round poultry feed amino acid needs. Consequently, it was decided to continue with soya beans, but to source them only from regions where GMO freedom could be guaranteed.

Brazil has been the Stolle’s soya bean supplier for many years now, and the spot checks start on the country’s farms and end in the laboratories back in Germany. However, the feed quality controls cover much more than soya bean meal.

“We source our main energy components in the feed – corn and wheat – from German farms only,” says Mr Focke. “This makes things a little easier for us because, so far, there’s no permission in place that would allow the growing of GM maize in Germany.”

Up to the end of May 2009, 5 percent of Stolle contract broiler growers were still not using feed that is certified GMO-free. However, the company has strictly separated production systems and feed channels so that no cross-contamination can occur. Sooner rather than later, all of Stolle’s chicken production will come under the non gene-technology label.

Broad approach

Stolle’s turkey production will also become subject to the same strict feed requirements and certification.

“It’s very much a step-by-step process,” emphasizes Mr Focke.

This careful approach is not only applied to feed. Mr Flocke continues: “Some of our convenience products are breaded joints or steaks, and this, of course, means that these components have to be reliably checked for the presence of GMO and, like the birds and the feed, have full traceability.”

Ninety percent of the products from the Gebrüder Stolle plant are sold in the German market but there is a growing export demand for the company’s processed chicken and turkey, with main customers Russia, the Middle East and the Far East.