EU farm chief pushes for biotech feed rules

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EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel yesterday (14 September) urged member states to draw up rules by the end of 2009 to restore soybean imports from the United States and secure adequate supplies of animal feed, despite a zero-tolerance policy towards unapproved genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in imported products.

While the EU has been rubberstamping by default the approval of a string of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), mainly maize varieties, since 2004, it does not permit the use of other GMOs, even in minute amounts, until they have been approved for use in the bloc. 

Soybeans, and to a lesser extent maize, are an important ingredient in animal feed.

Commissioner Fischer Boel told Reuters on the sidelines of a meeting of EU farm ministers in southern Sweden that a proposal on a maximum level for GMO residues in imports should be ready before the end of the year. 

“Over the summer I have become even more worried about this, because of the fact that we are importing into Europe a lot of soybean, and we desperately need soybean for our pig and meat production,” she said.

Since the EU’s three main country suppliers of soy, a high-protein raw material for feed, mainly grow GM varieties, non-biotech soy has become increasingly difficult to source for the EU’s manufacturers of animal feed.

The three suppliers are Argentina, Brazil and the United States.

More than 200,000 tonnes of US soy have been refused entry at EU ports in recent months after traces of unapproved GM maize varieties were discovered in them.

The blockage raised fears in the EU feed industry that it will be unable to buy millions of tonnes of US soybeans as planned unless the zero-tolerance policy on unapproved GMOs is changed.

The Commission has said it will find a technical solution to what is known as “low-level presence” of GMO residues.

“I’ve been very keen on this issue, raising the discussion on a quicker approval system, making it quite clear that member states do have their obligations,” she said.

Fischer Boel said the Commission had already received positive feedback from the EU’s scientific advisory body, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), on a variety of GM corn, MON 88017, which she hopes will be quickly approved by member states. 

“Here, I hope that member states will show their responsibility and vote in favour,” she said.

Fischer Boel said Sweden’s agriculture minister, Eskil Erlandsson, had promised to put the issue of MON 88017 on the agenda at the next Council meeting.

But getting a proposal on a biotech approval system on the table by the end of the year could be tricky.

Diplomats do not expect anything firm until a new team of European commissioners starts work in early 2010. 

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

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