Lack of decision making in Brussels is putting EU food production, and the entire livestock industry at risk. If the delay on approvals of GM soya mirror those of US maize then the impact on feed prices could be as much as 25% by 2009 with even larger increases to follow as new GM varieties come on stream according to a report from the Director General Agriculture in Brussels.

The European Food Safety Authority has pronounced the GM maize trait Herculex safe for import for both animal and human food and safe for the environment - it is already in use in eight different countries around the world – Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico and the US – yet it is still pending approval in the EU.

Briefing food processors and retailers on the threats to their industry this week , Robin Irvine, President of the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association said 

“The decision in Brussels to ban the import of maize by-products including Maize Gluten and Distillers grains will impact severely on livestock producers in Ireland and the UK.

“The new Herculex maize variety has been given a clean bill of heath by Europe’s top scientists and food safety experts but the officials led by the “Green” lobby in Austria and Ireland rejected their recommendation and failed to give the necessary approval to allow its use in the EU.

“Close to 1 million tonnes of these materials are imported into Ireland every year and they provide a cost effective alternative to expensive cereals. The loss of these ingredients at a time when cereal prices have rocketed to record levels has contributed to a £40 per tonne increase in ruminant rations since last autumn.

“Gluten and distillers formed a major part of many beef and cattle rations and they are difficult to replace in the formulations” says Robin. “There is no single ingredient to take their place but we can use combinations of products such as cereal, rapeseed and citrus pulp to achieve the same nutritional specification. There is however a significant impact on price per tonne and beef producers in particular may struggle to absorb the increased cost of production.”

The irony of the situation is that the move will not protect consumers – it will actually expose them to even greater risks. By imposing such heavy penalties on local production and making our producers less competitive they are actually encouraging imports from regions which are much less regulated. In the parts of the world where genetically modified feeds are not restricted, where meat and bone meal can be fed to animals and where antibiotic growth promoters are still permitted - meat can be produced at a much lower cost.

As European producers are forced out of business local consumers will be increasingly reliant on food from these sources.

“Our politicians need to be challenged with the reality of what is happening and we are making every effort to highlight the damage inflicted on our industry” says Robin. “Consumers need to be made aware that they are losing the option of a competitively priced, safe and well regulated local food supply”.

The science is being ignored by the Green lobby who are totally ignoring the economic impact of their policies. The rest of the world is actively embracing new technologies to improve production efficiency and for a region like Northern Ireland which is dependent on exporting food to be denied these benefits means we will be totally uncompetitive in the global marketplace.

This is just the start of a process which could be devastating for the European food industry and we have arranged a series of meetings with politicians and with our partners along the food chain to explain the full implications of what is happening.

The maize by-products have been lost for a couple of years at least and our dairy and cattle producers will suffer. New Soya varieties are now in the pipeline and with the current approach to approvals in the EU we may well see a ban on soya products in the next two years – that will have major implications for the pig and poultry sector.

Robin Irvine concluded “ The NI Grain Trade Association is not anti GM free feed materials, our members are involved in supplying GM free feed , organic feed and other speciality feeds for the markets and consumers which demand those products. The lack of decision making in Brussels penalises the whole of food production within Europe”

The situation can only worsen as GM crops are increasingly cultivated in the major exporting countries. Further GM maize traits and GM soya are in the pipeline for approval. At present the EU takes a minimum of two and a half years to authorise new GM plant materials while the average in the US is 15 months.

A report by DG Agriculture in Brussels points out that unless the authorisation of GM materials in the EU is brought in line with authorisations in the US, Brazil and Argentina, the result will be:

* Dramatic reduction in EU livestock population;

* Significant job losses

* An increase in the price of locally produced food

* Decreased competitiveness of EU food exports on the world market

* Increased EU imports from countries where food safety standards are not as stringent as in the EU .

* Knock on effects on consumer choice and food safety.