Isolating GM crops will see costs soar

4 August 2000

Isolating GM crops will see costs soar

By Philip Clarke

KEEPING non-GM and GM crops separate from the farm gate to the end consumer could raise raw material costs by as much as 17%, according to a new report from the European commission.

"Identity preservation is a move away from commodity trade and it implies additional costs at all stages of the food chain," it says. This includes the extra work in growing, handling, storing, testing, cleaning and processing different batches.

Exactly how much additional cost will depend on the tolerance level. But according to the report, it is likely to range from k5/t to k15/t (£8/t-£24/t), depending on the different grains and separation systems involved. "This would increase the grain price by 6%-17% compared to the farm gate price," it says.

Despite this, farmers only seem to be getting partial reward. Price information for soyabeans indicate that US farmers have received only about a 4% premium for non-GM supplies. (That compares with a 150% premium for organic beans.)

But doubts also remain about the profitability of growing GM crops. "Given the yearly fluctuations in yields and prices it is difficult to isolate the possible effects of biotechnology (on profitability)," says the report. "But the studies reviewed do not provide conclusive evidence on the farm level profitability of GM crops."

It suggests that factors such as convenience and flexibility in growing practices are the main factors behind the dramatic expansion in the global GM area in the past four years.

It also points to potential constraints for farmers adopting biotechnology. "GM seeds are sold and grown under contract. They are more expensive than conventional ones. Seed saving is forbidden. As a result of increased concentration farmers depend more and more on a limited number of input suppliers for crop production." &#42

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