EU regions call for non-GMO feed, food labels

There are adequate supplies of non-GMO soybeans to meet Europe�s feed needs, and GMO-free labels on food products should be encouraged throughout Europe. These were two important conclusions at the third annual conference of the European GMO-Free Regions Network, held in Brussels, Belgium in early February.

Anyone who doubts the viability of non-GMO food production should attend the annual conference of the European GMO-Free Regions Network. Three hundred forty-one representatives from Europe�s 51 (and growing) GMO-free regions recently gathered in Belgium to discuss their regional, diverse, productive, and sustainable food production systems. And no GMOs thank you very much.

GMO-Free Regions Network

Founded in 2003 by Tuscany in Italy and Upper Austria, the GMO-Free Regions Network has grown to include 51 regions in eight EU countries: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, France, Italy, Greece, United Kingdom, and Spain.

The Network continues to grow; regions from Norway will soon join and Ireland has announced it would be GM-free.

The regions are united in their commitment to keeping their agriculture and food production free of genetically modified organisms and to encouraging sustainable agricultural methods throughout Europe.

The 341 attendees at the most recent conference included 28 European Parliament members, regional government ministers, non-GMO ingredient suppliers, grain traders, and food producers, farmers, and representatives from agricultural cooperatives and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Non-GMO supplies �more than sufficient�

Supplies of non-GMO soybeans for animal feed were a major topic of discussion at the conference. Europe relies heavily on imports of soybeans and soybean meal for feed, importing about 14 million metric tons (MMT) of soybeans and 31 MMT of soybean meal each year, mostly from Brazil, Argentina, and North America. The majority of those imports are genetically modified.

Press reports and EU feed manufacturers have claimed that there isn�t enough non-GMO soy to meet European consumer demands.

Several conference speakers showed that claim to be false. �There is plenty of supply (of non-GMO soy) worldwide to meet Europe�s needs, including Brazil and India,� said Bernt Antonsen, director of AgroTrace, a supplier of non-GMO soy.

John Fagan of Cert ID, a non-GMO certification firm, was even more optimistic, saying �The tonnage of Cert ID-certified non-GMO soy available from Brazil, India, and North America is more than sufficient to assure sustainable, long-term

and growing production of non-GMO animal feed.�

Fagan said that his company certified nearly 2.7 MMT of non-GMO soy in 2009 and that another 2.5 MMT was available for certification. This combined total of 5.2 MMT was enough to meet 15% of the EU�s total soy meal needs. Other certifiers could supply another 20% to 35% of the EU�s non-GMO soy meal needs, meaning that 35% to 50% of Europe�s soy meal needs could be met by certified non-GMO soy meal. �Non-GMO is not a niche,� Fagan said.

Brazil�s non-GMO soy production is around 28.5 MMT, which by itself is nearly enough to meet EU needs, Fagan said.

Ukraine�s non-GMO potential

Ukraine is poised to help meet Europe�s non-GMO demand, said Avinoam Barkol, a representative with EcoUkraine. Barkol said that Ukraine�s new GM food labeling laws, which require labels on non-GMO as well as GM foods, are encouraging the country�s farmers to produce non-GMO. �This will expand the availability of non-GMO soy and corn,� Barkol said.

Ukraine is the third largest grain exporter in the world and currently produces one MMT of soybeans and 8 MMT of corn. �There is great potential for expansion based on demand of EU buyers,� Barkol said.

Thierry Renault, a representative of France-based Agrifeed Trading, said France imported about 473,000 metric tons of non-GMO soy in 2009, which was about 17% of France�s total soy imports. Renault said the percentage of non-GMO soy imports may increase to 20% in 2010.

Renault said his company could meet GM thresholds of 0.5% or 0.9% but said that 0.1% is �utopic.� Fagan disagreed, saying �Non-GMO at 0.1% is not only possible, it can be done, and will become easier as demand increases.�

GMO-free labeling trend

Adequate supplies of non-GMO feed tied into another major conference topic: GMO-free labels on meat, dairy, poultry, and egg products. Europe�s GM food labeling laws don�t apply to products derived from animals raised on GM feed. To fill this void, several European countries�Austria, Germany, France, and soon Ireland�are establishing GMO-free labeling laws that allow companies to promote the fact that they are feeding animals non-GMO feed.

Martin H�usling, member of the European Parliament and an organic dairy farmer from Germany, said his country�s �Ohne Genetechnik� (No Genetic Engineering) label has been successful. �People care how we feed animals,� he said. Germany�s organic farmers are even putting Ohne Genetechnik signs in their fields

H�usling said such labeling is vital. �Positive (GMO-free) labeling is the only way we can go now.�

Pilar Unzalu, president of the GMO-free Regions Network, said GMO-free labeling is a key aim of the network. �European consumers want non-GMO foods.�

EU-wide GMO-free labels

Many speakers called for harmonized, EU-wide GMO-free labels. �We need an EU-wide approach to labeling, positive GMO-free labeling for all of Europe,� said Rudi Anschober, minister for the environment, energy, water and consumer protection from Upper Austria.

�We should harmonize as much as possible and create an EU-wide GMO-free labeling regulation. It would accomplish what consumers want,� said Jochen Koester, managing director of TraceConsult.

Koester said GMO-free labeling requires consumer demand, industry commitment, and political will. �All three must be positive, otherwise it won�t happen.�

Austrian Markus Schorpf described his country�s �Gentechnik-frei� (Genetic Engineering Free) label, and said that an EU-wide approach to GMO-free labels was necessary because products are shipped to other European markets where problems can arise with different GMO-free labels. �It is important that we have harmonized conditions (for labeling),� he said.

NGOs also expressed support for GMO-free labeling. �Producers not using GMOs should be able to communicate that to consumers,� said Arnaud Apoteker, GMO campaigner for Greenpeace.

Heike Moldehauer, GMO campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said EU GMO labeling laws need to be changed to include animal products, but until that happens food producers should be able to label their products GMO-free.

GMOs threaten quality food production

Conference speakers were unanimous in opposing GM foods, viewing GMO monocultures as a threat to their regional, diverse agriculture. �Why should we accept GMOs when the benefits haven�t been proven and risks are present?� asked Elisa Bianco, spokesperson for Slow Food.

�GMOs don�t represent an opportunity, they are a health risk, environmental risk, and societal risk,� said Beatrice Gendreau, vice president in charge of Agriculture from the Aquitaine region of France. �The shadow of GMOs threatens quality food production.�

�This is a technology for four or five companies to control the food system,� Cert ID�s Fagan said. �If you let multi-national seed companies in, they will take over your seed system within five years.�

Fagan encouraged Europeans to continue their resistance to GMOs as a model to the rest of the world. �Maintain strength with what you are doing.�

(copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report, March 2010)