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Published January 2, 2008 01:15 PM

European conference aims to create global commodity market for non-GM soy and feed

Brussels, Belgium - Ensuring a reliable, global supply of non-GM soy for feed was the focus of a two-day conference held in December in Brussels, Belgium. The conference, “Non-GM Feedstuffs, Quality Productions and European Regional Agricultures’ Strategy,” was organized by Europe’s GMO-Free Regions Network and the European Committee of Regions, which hosted the event at its Brussels headquarters.

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“Something has to be done” Conference attendees totaled 361 with most of those representing Europe’s 43 GMO-free regions, such as France’s Brittany, Italy’s Tuscany, and Upper Austria, to name a few. The conference was international in scope with representatives from 9 non-European nations, including Canada, the United States, Brazil, India, and China. Many of these were representatives with non-GM soy suppliers.

The aim of the conference was to determine the global supply of non-GM soy and feedstuffs, with the goal of creating a global non-GM commodity market, says conference organizer Renaud Layadi, sustainable development project manager, Regional Council of Brittany. “We wanted to have a global overlook of the situation,” he says. “The most urgent task is to create a non-GM commodity market.”

EU GMO-free strategies The conference featured eight sessions with presentations on a range of topics, including examples of non-GM feed programs in Europe, global supplies of non-GM soy for feed, non-GMO certification, environmental and social implications of soy production, and strategies by European retailers to offer consumers non-GM-fed animal products. The conference began with presentations about feedstuffs in Europe and non-GM feed strategies. Gundala Azeez, with the United Kingdom-based organic organization Soil Association discussed how GM feed has entered the UK food supply.

Azeez said that nearly all dairy products, pork and red meat sold in UK supermarkets are from animals fed GM feed. None of these products are labeled GM because the EU doesn’t require labeling of such products. Azeez encouraged more EU meat producers to use non-GM feed to meet consumer demand. Representatives of several GMO-free meat producers discussed their non-GM feed strategies.

Yves de la Fouchardiere, chief executive officer, IGP Poulets de Loué, a French poultry producer, described his company’s commitment to using non-GM feed. Rudolf Buehler, chairman, Germany-based BESH, discussed establishing a non-GM soy supply chain for pork production. Stephano Tavoletti, project coordinator, Italy-based COPERLAT, described his research on non-GM feed for milk and cheese production. Tavoletti also called for an international GMO-free network.

There was debate over European consumer demand for non-GM food. Pekka Pesonen, secretary general, COPA-COGECA, an association of European agricultural organizations, said that GMOs were not as important to European consumers as the price of food. Several speakers strongly disagreed, saying that Europeans want non-GM food products. One speaker cited a 2006 Eurobarometer survey that found a majority of Europeans remain opposed to GM food. Supply and demand for non-GM soy With genetically modified soy acreage increasing in North and South America, the conference aimed to determine non-GM supply sources in the Americas, as well as China and India.

Representatives from non-GM soy suppliers in those regions spoke about their ability to meet Europe’s demand. Gerald Fowler, president, Canadian-based Manna International, said the non-GM soy market has reached a critical point. In the past few years, farmers were attracted to producing non-GM soy because prices for commodity GM soy were low, and premiums for non-GM soy offered an incentive. Fowler said commodity soy prices are now high and premiums for non-GM must be higher to attract farmers.

Steve Ford, president Stonebridge, Ltd., described his companies’ identity preservation system to ensure non-GM soy production. David Hendrick, president of Canadian-based Hendrick Seed, and Peter Shortridge, president of US-based Northland Seed and Grain Corporation, discussed their companies’ initiatives to develop non-GM soy varieties for production in Europe. Liu Qingdong, general manager, Heyday Food Co., Ltd., based in China, spoke about the supply of non-GMO and organic soy in that country.

Girish Matlani, manager, India-based Sonic Biochem Industries, gave an overview of India’s non-GM soy production. Matlani and Jayant Sohoni, manager, Ruchi Global, another Indian supplier, discussed their companies’ production of non-GM soy derivatives, including lecithin. Brazil’s importance to Europe’s non-GMO demand Brazil was the focus of several presentations because EU member states rely on Brazil for supplies of non-GM soy for animal feed. Brazil’s genetically modified soy acreage is increasing.

According to the European Feed Manufacturers Federation, 54% of Brazil’s 2006/2007 soy production was GM. Increasing GM production means less supplies of non-GM soy to meet Europe’s needs. Johnny Drescher, European export manager for Brazil-based IMCOPA, discussed how his company is supplying the European market with non-GM soy and derivatives. Rui ValenΓ§a with FETRAF-SUL/CUT, an association representing Brazilian family farmers, described his organization’s efforts to meet Europe’s demand for sustainable non-GM soy while providing markets to its farmer members.

John Fagan, a representative with non-GMO certification firm Cert ID, said Brazil could produce enough certified non-GM soy to meet Europe’s demand. Representatives with several non-governmental organizations discussed the ecological and social issues surrounding Brazil’s soy production. Arnaud Apoteker, a GMO campaigner with Greenpeace, described how the country’s Amazon rain forests are being cleared for soy production.

As a result, the European food industry forced major soybean traders, including Cargill, Bunge, and ADM to declare a two-year moratorium on soybean purchases from deforested areas. Brigitte Hofer, director of consumer policy with food retailer Coop Switzerland, described how her company addresses environmental and social concerns through certification of its non-GM soy imports using the Basel Criteria for Responsible Soy Production. In a later session, Hofer discussed Switzerland’s five-year moratorium on GM crop production.

She cited a survey showing that 56% of Swiss citizens believe GM food and feed to be “very bad” for people and animals, respectively. Hofer said very little GM feed has been imported into Switzerland. Successful conference Layadi said the conference “succeeded beyond our expectations.” Most importantly, the conference proved that sufficient non-GM supplies are available. A 2007 report issued by the European Commission said that it will be increasingly difficult for Europe to secure supplies of non-GM soy and corn for feed use.

Layadi said the conference showed the EC’s findings were wrong. “The EC report didn’t look thoroughly in the market to see what was available.” He added, “There’s an enormous effort by the biotech industry to make people think there is no alternative to GM.” The conference also succeeded in establishing business relationships between non-GMO suppliers in North and South America, India, and China and European buyers. As an example, Layadi said representatives from Comté, France’s largest quality cheese producer, came away from the conference confident they would be able to source non-GM feed.

Indian suppliers said they could supply 10,000 tons of non-GM soy and would have the ability to supply more in the future if the market demanded. The international attendees also gained a greater understanding of Europe’s non-GM market. “We’ve created links between the US, Canada, Brazil, Europe, and India,” said Layadi. Plans are underway to hold another non-GMO conference in Europe this year to keep the momentum achieved in this conference moving forward.

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