By Peter Grimshaw

PRUDENT stockmen keen to safeguard finished prices may do well to avoid feed containing genetically modified ingredients – and record the fact.

Although there has been no specific demand for slaughter stock that can be certified GM-free, Richard Maunder, of meat processor Lloyd Maunder, a major supplier to Sainsbury, believes the idea is being discussed at the highest level.

He does not support the idea, but maintains that farmers should know exactly what is in their feed.

“I think it would be very wise for producers to have records of everything,” he says.

Some supermarkets have said they will ban GM produce from their stores, he adds.

It may not be long before they instruct processors to buy only stock from producers who can prove they have cut out GM ingredients.

Livestock auctioneers take a similar line. Its not an immediate issue for those marketing stock, says Chippenham markets Peter King-will. “No-ones taken it up with us.”

But he believes that because most soya and maize gluten, the two principally affected ingredients, is imported from the USA, it is impossible to claim they are free of GM material.

To overcome this, livestock agent and consultant Keith Cook suggests producers should deal with reputable merchants.

“If things continue as they are, its possible that stock might be almost valueless two years down the line.”

At least one feed company has plans to offer guaranteed GM-free feed, which will inevitably be more expensive. Others say they are avoiding GM ingredients as much as possible.

Assured British Meats remains undecided on the issue, despite its brief to ensure the highest standards and quality from producer to plate.

“To the best of my knowledge, the ABM board hasnt come to any conclusion on GMs in general,” said an ABM spokesman. “But that doesnt mean that we are endorsing them.”

According to Jim Reed, managing director of supply trade organisation UKASTA, it will be economically impossible for farmers to produce stock from feed that is guaranteed free of all GM material.

“It would probably cost £20-30/t more,” he predicts. And it would only be possible to procure the ingredients for small lots of feed.

Even if producers were able to ensure stock was reared on GM-free diets claiming a premium from buyers could be difficult.

Brian Pack of Aberdeen & Northern Marts suggests the main problem would be getting a reasonable volume of consistent supply.

“Id be surprised if there were a premium. It would just become the norm.”