The European Union is considering allowing a trace amount of unapproved genetically modified material in imports of animal feed but not human food. The United States and other big grain exporters called the draft reports unworkable, Reuters reports.
The proposals from the European Commission are designed to avoid a repeat of last year’s disruption to animal feed supplies in Europe, when cargos of soybeans from the United States were blocked for a couple months after traces of unapproved material were found.
The EU authorized several of the biotech crops that had been causing the problem in November 2009, but the new proposal is meant to be a longer-term solution.
Only feed, no food
Under the proposals, the zero tolerance policy will remain for food. Importers and the European Union’s major trade partners, however, criticized the proposals for only covering imports for feed, and not food, which they said would not work in practice.
“Grain shipments from third countries are indistinguishably used for food and feed purposes in the EU,” said a letter sent to the commission this week by ambassadors of the United States, Brazil, Canada and Argentina.
“Any attempt to separate into ‘food-only’ and ‘feed-only’ would pose insurmountable difficulties for trade operators and EU food and feed processors,” the letter, seen by Reuters, added.
Feed most pressing
The commission proposal said the need for a solution to the problem of traces of genetically modified material in imports was most pressing for Europe’s feed and livestock sector.
“Potential trade disruptions would much more affect the feed sector than the food sector,” it said. “It appears therefore appropriate to limit the scope of this regulation” to animal feed.
The commission’s “technical solution” sets new rules for EU customs authorities on how to interpret tests on grain cargos.
The tolerance margin of 0.1% will only apply to biotech crops that have been approved in the exporting country and for which EU approval is pending. But that should cover many of the soy and corn varieties that have been causing the problem.
The head of the European seed-crushers’ association Fediol, Nathalie Lecocq, said that for her industry, the food and feed market are completely interlinked, so a feed-only solution would fail.
“It would put at risk the market for oil, and potentially the whole of our soybean imports,” she said. “If you can’t rely on 40% of your outlet for oil, you would have to consider if it’s economically viable to continue crushing in Europe.”
The proposals are due to be discussed by the EU’s 27 commissioners before publication. After that, it needs to be approved by a committee of EU government experts to become law, where it could face resistance from countries where opposition to biotech in food remains strong.