The European Union hit stalemate in February on the issue of traces of genetically-modified crops in imports of animal feeds.

The failure after two days of talks will have both cheered and disappointed, but surprised few, and the topic of zero-tolerance is due back on the table in early March.

The European Commission had asked Member States to adopt technical measures aimed at avoiding future trade disruptions on imports from third countries of feed materials containing traces of GM crops not yet approved in the EU. The proposal foresaw a technical threshold of 0.1% for GM events not yet approved in the EU, but for which a dossier for authorization and a method of analysis have been introduced at EFSA level.

There is a strong industry desire to at least doing something to move the Europe’s GM-dilemma forward, yet this desire continues to be frustrated.

Time running out  

European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation, FEFAC, president Patrick Vanden Avenne argues that the EU cannot afford to wait any longer after almost five years of discussions on the impact of its zero-tolerance policy on traces of GMOs not yet approved in the EU in feed materials from third countries.

He said: “The EU livestock sector, in particular pig farmers, is currently facing the most severe crisis for decades. At a time when livestock farmers are struggling with high feed costs due to record world price levels for cereals, we risk losing market access to the South American spring soybean crop with dramatic consequences for the supply of protein-rich feedstuffs due to the present EU zero-tolerance policy.

“It’s time for the EU to catch up with the reality of global expansion of GM crop acreage to ensure feed and food security of EU livestock farmers and consumers by adopting the ‘technical solution’ as first step in the right direction.”

FEFAC and other EU feed and food chain organizations have repeatedly warned the EU and national authorities of the consequences of the zero-tolerance policy on EU economic operators and consumers, and with the current difficulties in the crop market and new warnings of food and feed shortages, the arguments for abandoning the zero-tolerance policy become all the more the compelling. And then, of course, there is the science and international trade rules.

European farmers’ union COPA-COGECA had also supported the proposed change, noting that the EU is dependent for more than 80% on imports of vegetable proteins for which there are no substitution possibilities in the short-term. This is causing feed prices to rise further, thus deepening the crisis in the EU livestock sector, notable for pigs, since feedstuffs represent between 50-65% of production costs in the EU.

A practical solution must be found in the short-term, otherwise it could cost EU farmers hundreds of millions of euros.

Pressure  

As March proceeds, a decision may well be taken, it would seem the sensible thing to do. However, history has a habit of repeating itself, and it could well be that nothing changes until pressures on supplies become even heavier.

It could be said that those supporting the removal of the zero-tolerance rule have simply been blowing in the wind but it could be wind, or more likely some other climatic factor, that finally changes the EU’s mind. If the unusual weather patterns of late continue, the EU may have very little choice but to change its standards.