Action to help solve the current GM approvals process within Europe and contingency measures for the agri food sector if change cannot be effected are vital to avoid decimation of sections of the industry.

Ni Grain Trade Association representatives and industry partners who met with Michelle Gildernew, Minister for Agriculture, to lobby on GM approvals and DARD's contingency plans if these were not updated. Back row: Graham Furey, UFU President; Owen Brennan, Chairman LMC; Doris Leeman, Executive Secretary, NIGTA; Richard Moore, chairman NI Food and Drink Association; Eric Reid, Production Director, Moy Park. Front row - Gary McGuigan, President , NIGTA; Garth Boyd, Vice President.
Ni Grain Trade Association representatives and industry partners who met with Michelle Gildernew, Minister for Agriculture, to lobby on GM approvals and DARD's contingency plans if these were not updated. Back row: Graham Furey, UFU President; Owen Brennan, Chairman LMC; Doris Leeman, Executive Secretary, NIGTA; Richard Moore, chairman NI Food and Drink Association; Eric Reid, Production Director, Moy Park. Front row - Gary McGuigan, President , NIGTA; Garth Boyd, Vice President.

This was the warning from Gary McGuigan, President of the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association when he led an industry delegation meet Agriculture Minister, Michelle Gildernew.

Gary was accompanied by Eric Reid, Moy Park, Richard Moore, NI Food and Drink Association, Graham Furey, President UFU and Owen Brennan, Chairman, LMC.

He said” The matter has become so urgent that other industry representatives made the request to accompany NIGTA to speak with the Minister. There are more and more GM varieties of soya coming on stream and if Europe continues to take more than three years to approve them while other countries take six months then our agri food industry is not only being disadvantaged but parts of it will b decimated.”

The delegation told the Minister that the EU delay in approving a GM variety of maize last year had cost Northern Ireland farmers £50 million as they had to pay for alternative and more expensive sources of feed. Alarming as this was for the industry the same delay on GM soya approvals would be disastrous in that there is no alternative source of feed for the pig and poultry industries no matter how much they are prepared to pay.

A further difficulty is Europe’s insistence on zero tolerance for the unapproved GM varieties. Zero tolerance is so difficult to achieve that not even the ‘drink and drive’ campaign would insist on it. The risk of cross contamination of a miniscule amount of an unapproved GM variety is so likely that shippers are not prepared to bring product to Europe. Indeed a positive result could easily be due to sampling error. A tolerance of at least 0.9% is required.

The delegation emphasised that one poultry company in Ireland had already gone into examinership and the pig industry is in serious difficulties. A ban on soya imports would be the final straw and would decimate these industries. This would not only be a blow for farmers would also affect food prices for consumers and job losses. As an example, the poultry industry in Europe employs 500,000 people.

Gary McGuigan emphasised “The irony of this situation is that consumers will end up purchasing imported product that has been fed on the very materials that Europe has not approved and will probably have to pay a lot more for it due to the policy on food security in many countries. In addition the imported produce may not be produced to the same quality and welfare standards as that produced in Europe. To make matters even worse there would be significant job losses. Politicians could expect a vigorous backlash from consumers if all of this were to happen.”

The delegation urged the Minister to influence her Southern colleagues and other Ministers within Europe and to point out that they are only slowing down a process that is going to happen anyway and in doing so are destroying the agri food industry within Europe.

They also asked her to put contingency measures in place for Northern Ireland in the event of Europe failing to change its approval procedures and its stance on zero tolerance.