VEGA News Item

The 5Fs: Facts, Figures, Farming, Food, Future - 14/08/2007
“The current de facto import ban on corn gluten feed will add £60-90m to the feed costs of EU livestock farmers at a time when feed grains are already at record prices”...

1. “The current de facto import ban on corn gluten feed will add £60-90m to the feed costs of EU livestock farmers at a time when feed grains are already at record prices”, states Pedro Correa de Barros, president of the EU feed manufacturers body FEFAC. “A similar ban on soya meal imports will have devastating consequences for European livestock producers, wiping out entire pig and poultry production chains in the EU”. He is quoted in The Economist Impact of unapproved GMOs on EU feed imports and livestock production (which is on the European Commission website and reviewed in Animal Pharm, 27/07/07, number 618).

2. Data emerging from the report are cited as a warning that the EU’s cautious approach to authorising the import of GM feed materials means that it is in danger of severely constraining its intensive livestock industries. For example, there could be a 35% cut in pig production and 44% drop in poultry output in the EU within 3 years.

3. The report from the European Commission’s Directorate for Agriculture and Rural Development warns that there is a rapid uptake of GM varieties of corn (maize) and soya in North and South America, the major exporters of these commodities. The EU, a traditional importer of feed materials, risks running short of supplies unless that there is sufficient non-GM material available for export to the EU. There follow some telling data on the sources of concentrates used in feeds intended as imports into the EU.

4. Europe needs to import between 2.5 to 4 million tonnes of maize grains and the same quantity of corn gluten feed each year. About 45% of the grain comes from Argentina, Brazil, and the USA. The USA provides nearly all of the gluten feed. Soyameal imports total 34 to 35m tonnes annually, mainly from Argentina and Brazil; the USA and Paraguay are also important sources.

5. Rapid adoption of the Herculex rootworm GM maize in the USA, already present in export consignments, and the forthcoming Roundup Ready 2 GM soya, which will enter supply chains from 2008 or 2009, has aggravated the problems. Neither is licensed for use in the EU and the approvals process can take up to 30 months. Without access to these supplies, particularly the soya, livestock feed production in Europe may be constrained.

6. In its warning the Commission analyses a number of scenarios. In the worst short term case it envisages that EU pig production could drop by 29% in 2009 and 35% in 2010. Poultry meat output would fall by 29% in 2009 and by 44% in 2010; beef imports would need to increase by 4 times. Consequential effects could include an expansion of livestock production in the Americas and increased importation of meat and meat products to the EU, as well as alternative export markets for feed materials opening up, especially in China, to the EU’s longer term detriment. And – significantly in Grow Food not Feed and Horn or Corn contexts – “meat consumption in Europe could also fall as prices rise”.

7. FEFAC urges farm ministers at the European Council to “safeguard a viable industry in the EU by ensuring a reliable supply of vital imported feed materials. It supports the report’s call for the differences in the speed of GM authorizations between the EU and the exporting countries to be tackled urgently and for the European Food Safety procedures to be accelerated. “Otherwise, the GM issue risks contradicting the Commission’s wider objectives of overseeing a more competitive and sustainable agriculture”, declares FEFAC.

8. Floods and droughts and changes in climate are accentuating pressures on land on the use of fossil fuels for drying and processing and of increased areas devoted to harvesting biofuels. Environmental consequences such as allowance for fallowing will ensue. Across Europe feed-lot systems and zero-grazing of dairy cows will increase, accompanied by intensification of crops grown as forages, such as maize and oilseeds yielding proteinaceous meals. To all of this pressure must be added the increasing demand in India and China for diets changing from low to high inputs of animal-derived foods and the consequent inefficient use of land, water, and fuel. The toll of western-style patterns of diseases and the corollaries of McDonaldization follow in baleful progression. The UK may count for little in numbers of population but it can enhance the power of example and restraints. EFSA is the European Food Safety Authority. Britain’s FSA is a Food Standards Agency. In that word-change lies a monumental difference in the respect we reserve for farming, food, health, and the land.

9. Signs abound of discontent over present policies for farming, food, health, and the land and the corollaries in environmental matters and a comprehensive attitude to the wellbeing of all living entities. Vaccines and schemes of mass medication (with statins almost required like vitamins for the middle-aged and elderly) cannot cope with the threats of tuberculosis, foot-and-mouth disease, avian flu – and now the scourge of midge-borne blue tongue disease approaching northwards and waiting to cross the Channel on an easterly wind: the rude weapon of culling hangs over even the animals rescued and residing in sanctuaries, as well as those kept for our pleasure in zoos, circuses, petting farms and other collections. The need for research and development in dietaries based on a thrifty veggie style is imperative.

10. It is therefore especially galling to note initiatives in food retailing to cultivate a British population willing and affluent enough to spend more prudently on goods at a reasonable price being replaced by an unworthy price war led by Asda and Tesco to compete on sales of the £2 chicken. What shame and grief must attend the production and consumption of birds sacrificed at the altar of cheap food!

11. British arable farmers are starting on this year’s grain harvest and are well into decisions for sowing next year’s, autumn-sown so that the crop will be “showing its face to the sun” before we enter the year 2008. A few will be leaving their fields fallow for spring sowing. Harvesting a damp crop will use of essential quantities of fossil-fuel, particularly in the form of electricity. But it is destined for feedstuffs, bread, or biscuits – or wouldn’t a crop of nitrogen-fixing beans be best? Consumers can’t leave these decisions to farmers: every beep at the cash-point and the load in their trolleys determines the character of our farming landscape and the care we apportion to “our” livestock, domestic and wild.

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