GM policy could bring price, supply issues, warns UK

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gm, Genetically modified organism, Genetically modified food

The UK government has warned that the EU’s hardline on GM food could disrupt the supply chain and result in price hikes.

Farmers in North and South America are switching to GM, making it harder and harder for food importers in the UK to maintain non-GM sources of supply, according to a follow-up to last July's Food Matters report from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Although a small number of GM foods are allowed in the EU, the relatively hardline approach means many of the GM produced ingredients and crops from the US and South America are unsuitable for import into the bloc. This is causing problems food manufacturers and retailers in Europe that are only set to become more serious as GM spreads outside the EU.

Price and supply worries

Food manufacturers told the government that the cost of sourcing non-GM food ingredients is increasing so that non-GM ingredients now cost 10 to 20 per cent more than their GM equivalents.

Increased prices are not the only worry as the task of even securing non-GM sources of supply could become unfeasible.

The government report said: “Retailers were concerned that they may not be able to maintain their current non-GM sources of supply as producers increasingly adopt GM technology around the world.”

Worryingly the report also said that food served with GM food ingredients may be reaching customers without legally required warnings.

It said that oil from GM crops is used, particularly in the catering sector, and that “it was considered unlikely that relevant information regarding food produced using such oils is provided to the final consumer, as required in EC legislation.”

One area where there is immediate concern regarding the current policy is soya. The report said the UK feed and food sectors are worried that it will become impossible to maintain the current non-GM soya supply chain.

Brazil and Argentina supply 90 per cent of UK soya imports and GM cultivation is on the rise to the extent that Argentina’s production is now 94 per cent GM while Brazil’s is at least 65 per cent. The availability of non-GM soya is therefore likely to be a major issue for the food industry in the next 1-2 years, said the report.

Proposed solutions

In light of the potential food supply and price problems posed by GM, DEFRA and the FSA called for a more streamlined EU decision making process for GM products. The bodies also argued for a reconsideration of the current zero tolerance approach regarding the presence of low levels of non-EU approved GMOs. The report said decision makers must take account of what is proportionate in safety terms and what might be pragmatic from a trade perspective.

Finally, the report said the timetable for adoption of new GM feed crops should be monitored in the main supplier countries in relation to the timing of approval for EU import. The report warned that remedial action may need to be taken to prevent supply problems and risks must therefore be gauged accurately.

Source: GM Crops and Foods: Follow-up to the Food Matters Report by DEFRA and the FSA (August 2009)

Related topics: Policy, Food labelling

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