26 March 1999

Supermarkets consider GManimal feeds future

By FWi and FW livestock reporters

TWO of Britains leading supermarkets are examining the possibility of banning meat from livestock fed on genetically modified animal feed.

This follows last weeks announcements that a number of retailers are attempting to phase out use of GM crops in all own brands and new legislation forcing outlets to label food containing GM produce (see News).

Speaking to farmers weekly and FWi, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury confirmed they are looking at the feasibility of sourcing meat only from animals reared in GM-free livestock systems.

But until legislation changes, it will not be possible to remove GM material from animal feed, admits Marks & Spencer spokesman Crispin Burridge.

Currently, GM-free crops imported from Canada and Brazil are destined for human rather than animal consumption, he says. "We need to find segregated crops first."

But retailers have been meeting with international supply associations in the USA to work towards segregating GM crops used in animal feed from GM-free supplies.

Sainsbury believes that the first step towards GM-free animal feed is labelling, followed by a voluntary code of practice from the industry.

But the chain is looking to producers to use GM-free feed in the longer term, says spokeswoman Gillian Bridger. "We will work with the industry to source credible GM-free material."

However, NFU feed advisor Stuart Thomson says that asking UK producers to use GM-free feeds will make it even more difficult to compete with imports. "According to UKASTA, using GM-free feed could add 40% to ration costs.

"Its all very well talking about food safety, but that would mean UK farmers having to compete with overseas producers who are not facing the same restrictions and cost burden. Supermarkets must pay if theyre going to force us down that route."

Rob Hardy, technical officer of the Soil Association, is also questioning whether there will be enough GM-free soya to meet demand because GM and GM-free crops are not kept separate.

Currently, it is almost impossible to purchase GM-free soya as a straight commodity. Many traders say it is expensive, and can only be sourced in small quantities.

Ian Tremain, commodity trader at Mole Valley Farmers is selling Canadian GM-free soya beans for £274/t, compared with 48% Hi-pro meal at a spot price of £177/t. He admits it is impossible to obtain GM-free meal as it is impractical to keep GM soya completely separate during the milling process. "It is completely cost prohibitive."

Other suppliers are unable to offer any quantity of GM-free soya. Feed mills, although in some cases using it in their own rations, say supplies are tight. As a result, they are unable to sell GM-free soya as a straight commodity.

That view is echoed by Geoffery Appleby, director of Dukes and Botley Agriculture, who is concerned about possible cross-pollination of non GM crops as most countries are now growing both GM and non-GM crops.

"I can foresee a time in the next two years when GM-free soya will not be available," he says. &#42

GMFEEDS

&#8226 GM-free rations?

&#8226 Feasibility studies.

&#8226 Supply concerns.