Livestock feed costs could soar by 300% if Europe maintains strict import rules as global GM soya production rises, the government has warned.
Brussels’ low approval rate for GM products and its refusal to sanction soya imports containing unauthorised GM material threaten to decimate the UK pig and poultry sectors, said a report by DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency.
Major soya exporting countries – including the USA, Brazil and Argentina – might authorise and cultivate new types of GM crop before they are cleared for EU import, causing supplies of GM-free soya to dry up, the document warns.
“Under a ‘worst case’ scenario, where there are no soya imports from either Argentina and Brazil, the impact would be very significant,” says the report. “There would be a major increase in feed costs.”
UK livestock farmers are dependent on soya feed imports from Argentina and Brazil, the document states. These two countries supply about 90% of UK soya imports, which totalled 3m tonnes in 2007/08.
Without soya imports from these countries, the report forecasts a 300% rise in UK animal feed costs, accompanied by a 24-29% reduction in pig production and a 10-68% drop in poultry production.
“A significant reduction in UK livestock production could also have a range of consequential effects on land use and the environment. It is however difficult to predict these with any certainty or precision.”
The report acknowledges that its worst-case scenario “pushed the limits” of the analytical models on which it was based. But it still gave a good idea of the scale of any likely change.
“The risk that feed supplies could be affected by a low-level presence of non-EU approved GM material could be resolved if the EU allowed a tolerance for this, rather than operating a strict zero tolerance as now.”
But anti-GM campaigners accused DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency of presuming a worst-case scenario while failing to take account long-term feed security and low farm gate prices.
Pete Riley of GM Freeze said: “South American farmers are canny at business and already see the opportunities to supply the EU with non-GM feed if offered a decent return.”
South American governments would be very reluctant to close off lucrative European markets by approving additional GM soya varieties before were approved by Brussels, Mr Riley claimed.
“The analysis suffers from being given the wrong objectives at the start, which meant that the long-term problems of how to feed our poultry and livestock in a sustainable way in the future were largely bypassed to produce a report that plays to the short-term interests of the GM lobby in the UK”.