Conference highlights opportunities, challenges of non-GMO market

This is the first of a two-part series on the 2nd International Non-GMO Soy Summit.

If anyone has any doubts about the viability of the global non-GMO market they should talk to Renaud Layadi. Speaking at the 2nd International Non-GMO Soy Summit in Brussels in October, Mr. Layadi, sustainable development project manager, Regional Council of Brittany, said, “There are hundreds of organic labels objecting to GM use, dozens of retailers rejecting GM feed in their private labels, and scores of countries worldwide, as well as regions, counties, and districts banning or discouraging GM use in food or feed.”

130 attendees from all over the world
Mr. Layadi and other leaders of the global non-GMO market met recently in Brussels at the 2nd International Non-GMO Soy Summit to discuss the opportunities and challenges of producing non-GMO food and feed.

Conference attendees represented diverse groups and organizations worldwide, including GMO testing laboratories, suppliers of non-GMO soy and derivatives, soy product manufacturers, organic certification firms, biotechnology companies, European government regulatory bodies, non-governmental organizations, and university agriculture departments.

The two-day conference featured many speakers addressing issues related to securing a global sustainable supply of non-GMO soy. The first day focused on sustainable and non-GMO soy markets in Europe and issues impacting the supply and demand of non-GMO and sustainable soy.

The conference aimed to build upon momentum created by the first Non-GMO Soy Summit also held in Brussels in December 2007.

Non-GMO respects consumer choice
“Non-GM cultivation and non-GM feed are a strategic opportunity for European Agriculture but how can it be expressed?” Mr. Layadi asked. He then cited several examples of “winning strategies” for non-GMO food production, including Besh pork production, Comté, France’s largest quality cheese producer, Label Rouge, a French poultry producer, and Tegut, a German retail chain. These companies, Mr. Layadi said have a vision of sustainable agriculture, produce high-quality products, and are meeting consumer demands. “The GM cartel has always defended free enterprise and the free market, but isn’t free market respecting the choice of consumers?” he asked.

48 GM-free regions in Europe and growing
Pascale Loget, vice president of the regional council of Brittany of the European Union Committee of the Regions, gave an overview of Europe’s GM Free Regions Network, which now includes 48 regions. Regions are the equivalent to American states. Four regions from Belgium, Spain, and Croatia joined the network in October bringing the total to 48. “The GM Free Network is one of the most healthy regional organizations dealing with sustainable agriculture in Europe,” Ms. Loget said.

She also said that Europe imports 38 million metric tons of soy per year with 90% of that used for feed. The main suppliers to Europe are the United States, Brazil, and Argentina. “Soy is a major issue for the future strategy of European Farmers,” Ms. Loget said.

ABRANGE aims to enlarge non-GMO market
César Borges de Souza, president of ABRANGE (the Brazilian Association of Non-GM Producers) discussed his new organization whose mission is to promote non-GMO agriculture and processing in Brazil and to promote the enlargement of the non-GMO market worldwide, among other goals.

Mr. Borges de Souza gave an overview of the non-GMO production of ABRANGE’s members who include AMaggi, Brejeiro, Caramaru, Cocamar, Imcopa, and Vanguarda. Combined these companies produce 6.25 million metric tons of non-GMO soy.

Mr. Borges de Souza said Brazil is the leading producer of non-GMO soy, producing 25 million metric tons followed by India with 8.5 million tons and China with 8 million tons. Other countries produce 5.5 million tons creating a total of 47 million tons of non-GMO soybeans worldwide. However, according to a report by AgriLogic, the United States alone produced about 5.9 million tons in 2008.

“Ensure a non-GM supply”
Building upon Mr. Borges de Souza’s presentation, Augusto Freire, chief executive office of Cert ID Brazil, demonstrated that there are sufficient supplies of non-GMO soy in Brazil and other countries to meet Europe’s need, contrary to recent announcements by European feed industry members. Cert ID certified more than four million tons of non-GMO soybeans plus more than 3.4 million tons of soy derivatives—oil, meal, proteins, and lecithin—in 2008.

Though plantings of GM soy are increasing in Brazil, Mr. Freire said, “Segregation schemes exist and can be operated and certified to ensure a non-GM supply, if the correct premiums are paid.” He also said that soy production in India and China is also non-GMO.

No coexistence between GM and non-GM
Joseph Stockinger, minister of agriculture of Upper Austria and vice president of the GM Free Regions Network, said that there can be no coexistence of GM and non-GMO farming. “Small-scaled agriculture (of non-GMO farming) makes coexistence nearly impossible,” Mr. Stockinger said.

He discussed the need to replace the European Commission’s coexistence recommendations with mandatory rules that would address contamination issues and the need for long-term risk assessment on GM crops.
The allowable GM thresholds on seed, which has not yet been established by the EU, should be as low as possible at 0.1%, Mr. Stockinger said.

EU citizens worried about GMOs
Claudia Fenor, deputy managing director, TNS Opinion in Brussels, described how European public opinion remains opposed to GMOs. A 2005 Eurobarometer Survey found that 62% of Europeans are worried about GMOs in food and drinks. The survey also found that 58% of Europeans are opposed to the use of GMOs while only 21% favor their use. GMO opposition is strongest in Slovenia, Cyprus, Greece, Austria, and Finland.

Less media interest, low public awareness
Jonathan Bayne, technical development and regulatory affairs controller at UK-based Musgrave Retail Partners discussed sustainable non-GMO soy from the retailers’ perspective. Mr. Bayne quoted Soil Association statistics showing that 30% of United Kingdom soy imports for animal feed are GM.

Media interest in GM foods has declined while “consumer awareness is low to zero,” he said.

Mr. Bayne said that some of the challenges facing retailers related to ensuring non-GMO foods, include the availability of non-GMO ingredients, increased costs, commitments from farmers, and safeguards to prevent contamination.

(Part two of this series focuses on sustainable, non-GMO soy markets in Europe and current issues impacting supply and demand of sustainable, non-GMO.)

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report January 2009