By Emma Penny

LIVESTOCK producers appear to have escaped unscathed so far from this weeks GM foods furore.

But experts are warning that no guarantees can be given about GM-free rations, and there are calls for clearer guidance on the issue from retailers.

While retailers are pushing GM-free lines to gain market share, the most that can be done is to say that they are essentially GM-free, believed speakers at last weeks Milk Development Council Focus Centre meeting at ADAS Bridgets, Hanpshire.

Nutritionist Jonathan Blake says that while producers may believe excluding products such as maize and soya from rations will give GM-free feed, vitamins and minerals provide another challenge.

An example of the problem is that in some cases vitamins are encapsulated by maize starch, which could well be GM. There are alternatives to vitamins and minerals such as seaweed, but these products may not be as good as those you are trying to replace, he warns.

But Paul Blanchard, pig technical manager for Frank Wright which supplies many feed supplements, says it is impossible to specify a ration which is completely GM-free and meets animal needs.

Dr Blanchard stresses that supplement suppliers are aware of the concern, and have already taken action.

Now all supplements whether vitamins, minerals, enzymes or amino acids have been categorised.

“This is according to whether they are completely GM-free, are derived from a process involving GM technology but do not contain altered DNA, or whether they contain GM material. All suppliers know exactly which category products fit into.

He explains that maize and soya are often used as carriers for vitamin and enzyme products, and although alternatives such as silica can be used, it is costly and difficult to change this.

Other products such as yeasts are derived from processes involving GM technology although they do not contain any altered DNA, while certain vitamins and minerals contain no GM material at all.

Like many of his industry colleagues, Dr Blanchard has been responding to producer queries generated by recent supermarket surveys on livestock feeds. But he believes retailers must determine what they want.

It is a nightmare, and there is no one at the supermarkets to talk to. They are not basing their decisions on any scientific information, and UK producers are suffering because all our competitors are using GM technology to improve feed efficiency.

Marks and Spencers livestock technologist Chris Brown currently involved in drawing up the companys specification for livestock rations says he recognises that some supplements are the result of GM technology.

There has to be an element of the art of the possible, and that is recognised by sensible members of the industry.

But NFU feed specialist Stuart Thomson says this approach and the announcement last week that all livestock supplied to Iceland Frozen Foods will be reared on a non-GM diet from September illustrates the problem with retailers GM-free guarantees.

Iceland made no mention of tolerance levels or segregation, but said the move would not cost its customers any more. It is a fudge, but it has made an impact.

This means that consumers choosing to buy GM-free food may have little guarantee that it meets that requirement completely, but Mr Thomson believes tighter legislation may help clarify this.

The key problems are testing methods and tolerance levels, but there may be some progress now responsibility for feeds has moved from the ECs agriculture division to the public health department.

The EU has decided to review all feed legislation, and it is likely to mirror food legislation. It has agreed that a 1% tolerance is acceptable in food products, and a similar level may be introduced for feeds, says Mr Thomson.