GM food industry eyes growth in the east

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gm, European union

The growing commercialisation of GM crops could have significant
benefits for the food industry in Eastern Europe over the coming
decade.

In a conversation with CEE-Foodindustry.com, Europabio's Simon Barber explained that the increasing applications of GM like drought resistant crops will continue to change European perceptions on their use. Europe currently remains well behind countries like the US, Canada and Brazil in terms of GM usage as it struggles with divided opinion on their use. Despite countries like Slovakia and the Czech Republic using insect resistant maize for feed purposes, GM use is limited particularly in the developing markets of Central and Eastern Europe due to moral and health concerns. Barber feels however that the developments of new bio-technologies like crops more resistant to drought will encourage both consumers and the food industry to accept the technology in the region. "Along with increased nutritional outputs like healthier rapeseed oils, beneficial input implications like crops with better water-use efficiency will really benefit food production in the region,"​ he said. "Though it is impossible to be exactly sure, within the next ten years I would expect the industry to become fairly advanced in what can be done." ​ According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) drought resistance is one area in particular, which is seen as a key development for the growth of GM crops. It predicts that the genes which expected to be available for commercial use by around 2011 will significantly reduce the affects of drought on grain production. Drought has proved a major problem for grain processors particularly in Central and Eastern Europe where adverse conditions throughout both the summer and winter last year took their toll on soil quality. As a result the International Grains Council (IGC) found grain production last year was down by 51m tones from 2005 due to poor harvests in countries like Poland and Ukraine. The decline in grain stocks resulted in increasing prices for processors as demand in the region tightened. Groups like US biotech giant Monsanto, which has testing already underway on water efficient crops, are hoping they can it can capitalise on demand for products resistant to climatic uncertainty. Monsanto revealed earlier this year that trials of its drought tolerant corn and water efficient soy bean were found to produce higher yields of crop with less wilting. The company's figures for 2006 found that yields of its drought resistant corn under drought stress in certain cases showed a 23.2 per cent increase over controlled non-GM corn production. Besides GM applications in protecting the supply chain of raw materials, the increasing focus on nutritional benefits in food products to meet growing demand for wellness products is also seen as an important development. This month alone, US research into food stuffs as simple as tomatoes and rice have found methods to amplify the nutritional benefits of a product. University of Florida researchers have suggested that transgenic engineering of tomatoes has allowed them to increase the content of folates - which have been linked to reducing infant spina bifida by around 25 times. The US department of agriculture has also announced its desire to develop nutritional benefits in food by approving the cultivation of GM rice engineered to produce the proteins lactiva and lysomin. Test into the two proteins found naturally in breast milk suggest that they can have significant potential on diarrhoea. While the US continues to lead the way in both GM research and yields, Barber was confident that producers in Eastern Europe would become increasingly receptive to the potential benefits of the products. Not all are as keen to embrace GM use however, with some European states still coy on adopting the techniques into their food chains. There are currently just six countries in the European Union currently employing insect resistant form of genetically modified agriculture out of a total of 25 member states. Though some EU nations like France and Spain have expressed desire to increase their yields, other including Hungary remain staunchly opposed to any form of GM use. Hungary has banned the use of any GM in its food chain, including a strain of insect resistance maize approved by the EU for feed use. With the EU upholding Hungary's right to continue to outlaw GM use in the country, objection in the bloc could hold out for some time yet. Hungary's reservations have also been backed by environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, who have expressed concern at the unknown long term health affects of GM, which it fears could pose a risk to consumer health.

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