An EU decision which ignores the findings of EU top scientists will mean a significant increase in feed costs for livestock farmers. The EU, last week, failed to approve the import of by - products, such as corn gluten and corn distillers from the Herculex maize variety from the United States.

This effectively stops the import of corn products into Europe - materials which are cost effective ingredients, particularly in cattle rations where they are widely used in Ireland as an alternative to high priced cereals.

"Not only will this impact on feed prices as we will have to source alternative ingredients to replace the 1 million tonnes of maize products which are imported into Ireland each year, but other countries which are feed exporters such as the US, Argentina and Brazil, have no problem using these products and will have an even greater advantage over our farmers" says Robin Irvine, President of the NI Grain Trade Association.

He added "This couldn't happen at a worse time as we are seeing the prices of all feed materials increasing rapidly in response to the demand from the energy and Bio- fuel sector. What is even more worrying is the fact that another two varieties of US corn, approved for use in the US but not in the EU will be harvested in September 2007. This means that the new crop material will also be banned and based on experience with Herculex their approval could take up to two years."

Europe has been assessing the Herculex variety of genetically modified maize since 2005 and while it has been passed by top EU scientists the "Green" lobby in countries such as Ireland and Austria have ensured that the vote did not achieve the qualified majority necessary to allow access to the EU. The Irish stance on this is difficult to understand since their livestock industry also needs these products to remain competitive. In fact, over 50% of these corn products come to the UK and Ireland.

The issue poses fundamental questions for European food production and Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson was critical of the countries who refused to authorise GM crops which have been passed as safe by the top EU scientists. "We must stand by the science" said Mandelson, "We must not allow the positive arguments for bio-technology to be lost because governments are afraid or unable to make the case to their citizens. European farmers may soon find that importing GM free feed for their livestock is a difficult and expensive exercise.

"We do not have the available land both to farm animals and grow the feed they need. Unless we close the gap between GM approvals in the EU and in feed exporting countries such as the US, Argentina and Brazil, we may have hungry cows and struggling farmers."

Health commissioner Markos Kyprianou also expressed his concern stating that "It is not possible in current conditions to meet the EU feed demand with non - GM feed".

Robin Irvine continued "This is another development which reduces the competitiveness of local food production. This can only increase the move to import more food for European consumers from outside the community - from countries where vastly different standards apply in relation to GM crops and other food safety issues.

"The NI Grain Trade Association will be lobbying political representatives and point out that is of vital importance that farmers do likewise in order to press for an early resolution of these approvals in the EU."

Background Information: Threat To Corn Gluten And Corn Distillers Imports

The situation on imports of US Corn Gluten and US Corn Distillers has become more difficult after the EU Standing Committee this week failed to gain a qualified majority in favour of approving the variety of Corn know as Herculex.. It had been expected that approval would be granted at the meeting on 25th June 2007. The next likely opportunity for approval could be as late as October or November 2007.

This effectively means that shipments of these goods from the USA have been suspended awaiting final approval by the EU Commission later this year.

There are another two varieties of US Corn, approved for use in the US but unapproved in the EU that will be harvested in September 2007. This means that based upon the experience with Herculex we will not be able to import these by-products into Europe.

With new varieties continually coming on stream it is possible that we will be denied access to these by products for the foreseeable future if the EU politicians maintain their current attitude.

Why is this so important for farmers in the UK and Ireland?

Table of EU imports figures
Table of EU imports figures

The UK and Ireland are currently among a group of five EU countries that are main users of these materials, using approximately 1.7m tonnes out of a total EU usage of 3m tonnes. [ see table ] The loss of these materials will have a disproportionate effect on the costs of livestock production in Northern Ireland. These materials are particularly valuable to farmers in Northern Ireland as they allow for substitution away from grains and other products that are more readily available on the Continent. The corn products can be shipped direct into Northern Ireland from the US while many of the alternative materials would only be available in Northern Ireland at a premium to their cost on the Continent. This is entirely due to the high costs of transportation.

The final price paid to farmers is determined by the large multiple retailer and it is unlikely that these extra costs can be recovered. Northern Ireland farmers will therefore suffer increased feed costs making them less competitive and vulnerable to imports from the global food market.

Therefore it is of vital importance for farmers to lobby their political representatives to press for an early resolution to the issues of GMO approvals in the EU.