Europe could run short of food; - consumers will suffer from food price increases and will be forced to buy imported food from sources where production is not as well regulated as within Europe.

This was the warning issued by Robin Irvine, President of the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association when he met Michelle Gildernew, Minister for Agriculture this week. He emphasised "This is not just the view of our Association, I am repeating the warnings issued by Markos Kyprianou, the EU Commissioner for Food, and Marianne Fischer Boel, the EU Commissioner for Agriculture."

The irony of the situation is that the food that will have to be imported will be produced from the crop varieties which are denied to European farmers.

To clarify some misconceptions, Robin explained "Some people see this as an argument about the pros and cons of Genetically Modified (GM) materials. This issue is not about GM, - biotechnology is already here, - Europe has approved many GM crop materials and these are widely used in food and feedstuffs. A further 90 varieties are with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for assessment but the delays now occurring in the process are putting the survival of our food industry at risk.

Robin added "The EU system of approval for new varieties of crops is totally out of sync with the rest of the world. While food production in other countries enjoys the benefits of new science and technology the European system plods along several years out of date. This failure of the approval system has has led to the loss of 1 million tonnes of feed materials in Ireland alone and has inflicted a massive cost penalty on local livestock producers.

"We are concerned that the new varieties of soyabean which are currently being developed in the USA will meet with the same delays in Brussels.

Our pig and poultry industries are totally dependent on imported soya with 35 million tonnes of this material imported into the EU every year from North and South America. This disruption in international trade is devastating for our livestock producers and will be damaging for consumers.

"Europe is out of step, in that it takes two years longer than any other region to approve new varieties and is in danger of making local food producers so uncompetitive that many will be forced out of business – consumers will be denied an affordable local product, produced to a very high standard and will be dependent on imported food produced under a much less regulated regime – using practices which would not be permitted in Europe."

Food supplies are tightening around the world - the developing countries such as China and India are increasing their consumption and the energy industry is competing with food processors for the worlds' grain supplies. Global grain stocks are lower than they have been for a generation and a number of food exporting countries are limiting exports to ensure sufficient supply for their own population. The reality is that European food security will be put at risk if we fail to maintain a competitive local agri-food sector.