GM material in animal feed
Thursday 19 March 2009
Before a genetically modified organism (GMO) can be either grown or marketed in the European Union (EU), it must be granted consent (i.e. authorised) under European legislation – EC Regulation 1829/2003 lays down the authorisation procedures for GM food and feed (the GM Food and Feed Regulation).
This requirement applies to both living GMOs, such as maize and soya beans, and to feed and food ingredients derived from the processing of GM crops. The authorisation procedure includes a safety assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). On the basis of these assessments, there is no reason to suppose that GM feed presents any more risk to farmed livestock than conventional feed. GM feed, which is very unlikely to contain viable GMOs, is digested by animals in the same way as conventional feed. Food from animals fed on authorised GM crops is considered to be as safe as food from animals fed on non-GM crops.
There have been some concerns that functional transgenes from GM-derived feed materials might be incorporated into livestock products for human consumption (milk, meat and eggs). However, in a statement published on 20 July 2007, the EFSA advised that:
- 'Biologically active genes and proteins are common constituents of food and feed in varying amounts. After ingestion, a rapid degradation into short DNA or peptide fragments is observed in the gastrointestinal tract of animals and humans. To date, a large number of experimental studies with livestock have shown that recombinant DNA fragments or proteins derived from GM plants have not been detected in tissues, fluids or edible products of farm animals like broilers, cattle, pigs or quails.'
Before the GM Food and Feed Regulation came into force, 10 plant lines with potential use in animal feed had been licensed for commercialisation in the EU under EC Directive 2001/18 on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs (the Deliberate Release Directive). Five of these authorisations were revoked in March 2007 following their owners' decision to withdraw the products from the market. Another 13 plant lines have since been authorised by the Commission under the GM Food and Feed Regulation.
There are therefore 18 GMOs that have been authorised under the Regulation for possible use in feed in the EU. This list includes 12 varieties of maize, two varieties of soya bean, and one variety each of oilseed rape, sugar beet, cotton and potato. These varieties have been produced to have resistance to certain herbicides or insect pests, or in some cases both, except for the potato, which has an enhanced starch content. Further details of these varieties are given in the register on the Comission’s website, available through the link at the bottom of this page.
All of these GM varieties have been authorised for import and processing. Only three of them – the starch potato and two of the maize varieties -- have been licensed for cultivation, although one of the maizes cannot be grown in the EU because it has still to be included in the Common Catalogue of approved seed varieties. Small quantities of the other maize are currently grown commercially in the Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain, but the seed is not marketed in the UK. The potato is expected to be grown in the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, but not in the UK because we do not have the required starch processing facilities.
When the GM Food and Feed Regulation came into force, there were several products on the European market derived from plant lines that had not been authorised under the Deliberate Release Directive because there had been no intention to commercialise the plants themselves in the EU. All were granted temporary authorisation under the GM Food and Feed Regulation pending their evaluation by the EFSA and decisions on their continued use. Three of them have since been authorised under the Regulation, and are included in the list given earlier. Temporary authorisation therefore continues for five varieties of cotton, five varieties of maize, two varieties of oilseed rape, one variety of soya bean and two varieties of yeast.
A larger number of GM plant lines, including varieties of maize, soya, oilseed rape, cotton and rice that have not received marketing consents in the EU, have been approved for growing elsewhere in the world, particularly major commodity-exporting countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, India and the USA. In general, the EU's authorisation procedures for new GM varieties tend to be slower than those of other countries, a time-lag known as 'asynchronous authorisation'.
Before 18 April 2004, GM material for feed use was not required to be labelled. Since then, labelling has been required for feed materials and compound feeds that contain GM or GM-derived material. Labelling is not required for feed consignments containing adventitious or technically unavoidable traces of GM, up to a threshold of 0.9% for GM varieties approved in the EU. Until April 2007, there was a second threshold of 0.5% for varieties that had received a favourable scientific assessment but had yet to be authorised in the EU, but this was a temporary arrangement which has since expired. According to the European Feed Manufacturers' Association (FEFAC), 85% of the EU's compound feed production is now labelled to indicate that it contains GM or GM-derived material.
The spread of biotechnology through commodity-exporting countries means that supplies of feed materials to the EU will contain a growing proportion of GM-derived products. It is not possible to quantify this as there is no legal requirement to collect such data, but these imports are considered by the EU feed industry as unavoidable because the EU is not self-sufficient in protein-rich feed. FEMAC estimates that the EU livestock industry as a whole imports 77% of its protein requirements; 98% of the soya bean meal imported by the EU is sourced from Brazil and Argentina, which are major producers of GM soya. Brazil and Argentina also supply the EU with significant quantities of maize for starch manufacture, the by-products of which go for feed use; much of this will be GM. The UK imports cotton meal from Brazil, India and China, which are major producers of GM cotton.
Identity preservation – i.e., the segregation of GM and non-GM crops after harvest and during transport, storage and subsequent use – is not routinely practised by commodity-exporting countries, but can be achieved at a premium. This additional price will vary according to the state of the commodity markets and the nature of demand for the end products (milk, meat and eggs for human consumption).
The USA is the largest producer of GM commodity crops. It is estimated that, in 2009, GM varieties accounted for 85% of US maize plantings, 88% of cotton plantings, 91% of soya bean plantings and 95% of sugar beet plantings. The second largest producer of GM crops after the USA is Brazil, where in 2009 GM varieties accounted for around 71% of soya bean plantings and 53% of maize plantings. In Argentina, GM varieties accounted for almost all of the soya planting and 65% of maize plantings. GM cotton accounted for 40% of Brazil's cotton production, 87% of Indian cotton output and 68% of Chinese cotton. GM varieties formed 93% of Canada's oilseed rape crop.
The global area sown with GM crops in 2009 was estimated as 134 million hectares in 25 countries (up from 125 million hectares in 25 countries in 2008 and 114.3 million hectares in 23 countries in 2007). This was the fourteenth consecutive year of increase in the area devoted to GM crops, with much of the increase being in developing countries, who were responsible for 46% of the world's GM crop production. It is further estimated that 90% of the 14 million farmers who grow GM crops are located in developing countries such as China, India, the Philippines and South Africa, and that most of these farmers are producing on a smaller scale than their industrial-scale equivalents in the Americas.
GM crops now occupy more than 9% of the world’s arable land, an area more than five times the size of the UK. The table below shows (in hectares) the quantities of GM soya, maize, cotton and oilseed rape grown worldwide in 2009 as a proportion of the total harvests:
|Global cultivation||Total||GM varieties|
|Soya bean||95 million||69.2 million (72%)|
|Maize||157 million||41.7 million (25%)|
|Cotton||34 million||16.1 million (44%)|
|Oilseed rape||30 million||6.4 million (22%)|
|Total for the above four crops||316 million||134 million (41%)|
Sources: Food Standards Agency; Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; US Department of Agriculture; American Soybean Association; International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications