15 June 1999
GM feed — ‘The same mistakes as with BSE’
By Vicky Houchin
MISTAKES made by the British feed industry and farmers which caused the BSE crisis are being repeated with genetically modified animal feed.
The warning from the Daily Expresss environment correspondent, John Ingham, was issued at a debate on genetically modified (GM) animal feed at the Oxford Union last nigth (Monday).
Mr Ingham accused feed manufacturers and farmers of meddling with nature and turning cattle into cannibals.
“And now a similar process is under way, and it involves Tony Blair and GM foods,” he said.
Mr Ingham said Mr Blair had not gone down the same route of photo-calls as John Gummer did when he thrust a hamburger down his daughters throat. But he was, like Mr Gummer, acting on “best scientific advice.”
And this advice is always changing, as it did with BSE, said Mr Ingham.
But feed industry leaders and farmers denied responsibility for the BSE crisis, estimated to have cost the UK £3.5 billion.
Mr Ingham had made the mistake of assuming there was a sudden change in cattle feed, and this was just not true, said Jim Reed, director general of UKASTA.
Meat and bonemeal has been fed to cattle for decades and the recycling of livestock goes back thousands of years, said Mr Reed.
He admitted that consumers were more wary of food as a result of BSE, but stressed that biotechnology is no different from plant breeding of the past. “Its faster and more precise, but in most cases no different,” he added.
Mr Reed acknowledged that consumers are concerned about food, but added that his organisation was discussing with retailers how to satisfy their requirements.
If GM-free soya for cattle is sourced, it will take many months to sort the supply chain out, said Mr Reed.
But Harry Kershaw, managing director of AgrEvo UK Ltd, feared that if the UK turned its back on GM technology, it would destroy the British nation.
He claimed that British agriculture would no longer be sustainable if the UK failed to embrace biotechnology.
UK pig farmers already face 25% bigger costs than their US counterparts. And if farmers were forced to use non-GM feed, these costs would rise by a further 25%, said Mr Kershaw.
“Is there a remedy, or are our farmers ruined?” he asked.
Mr Kershaw said there could two solutions for British farmers if consumers rejected GM animal food – tariffs on imports, or extra subsidy which the public would have to pay.