BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - There is an urgent need for the European Union to speed up GM crop authorizations to avoid negative implications for its livestock production and agriculture overall, according to a new report from EU officials.

It comes in the wake of warnings from senior EU figures - most recently European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson - about the risk that Europe may isolate itself by falling behind in GM authorizations. (See BioWorld International, June 20, 2007.)

The EU agriculture department has assessed the economic implications of unauthorized GMOs in EU feed imports, modeling the economic impact of a potential interruption of soybean/meal imports from the three major exporting countries: the U.S., Argentina and Brazil. It concluded that the likely increase on the market of EU non-approved GMOs will limit the possibilities for EU animal feed imports.

"Even if exporting countries take their exports to the EU into account in their GMO approval strategies, unwanted mixing resulting from illegal or experimental cultivation may render these policies less effective," the report said.

The problem arises from what the report terms "asynchronous approvals of GMOs" - in other words, exporting countries are authorizing GM crops much faster than the EU. "From an economic point of view, the EU will certainly profit if it can ensure greater flexibility in maintaining imports from different countries, by limiting the potential impact of and by avoiding asynchronous approvals of GMOs," the report noted.

It pointed out that the EU's zero-tolerance policy for nonapproved GMOs in food and feed imports could leave it facing crippling shortages.

The presence of EU nonapproved GMOs already has affected imports of maize feed products (corn gluten feed and distillers dried grain).

The problem will become even more acute with soybeans and soybean meal, of which the EU imports large volumes for feed, and which would be difficult to replace by alternative protein-rich feed.

The study models the economic impact of a potential interruption of soybean/meal imports from the three major exporting countries - the U.S., Argentina and Brazil. If EU nonapproved GM soybeans were cultivated only in the U.S., but not in Argentina and Brazil, the impact on the EU market of an interruption of U.S. supplies would be small due to the moderate U.S. import volumes.

However, if those GMOs also were cultivated in Argentina (medium-impact scenario) or in Argentina and Brazil (worst-case scenario), the estimated economic impact of a two-year import interruption would be severe, cutting EU feed supply (in soybean meal equivalent) by 3.3 million tons and 25.7 million tons, respectively, with feed expenditure rising by 22.8 per cent and by more than 600 percent respectively.

Differences in the speed of the GMO authorization procedure between the EU and the major exporting countries should be reduced, the study argued. "A limiting factor at present is the risk-assessment procedure by the European Food Safety Authority. There is a long backlog of GMO applications following the modification of the GMO legislation. It could be examined if there are ways of accelerating the EU authorization procedure without compromising the high standards and validity of the risk assessment," the report said.