Safety assessment of GM animal feed
Economic impact of a GM-free country?
Ireland relies more on imports of animal feed than any other country in the European Union; quite simply because we do not have enough land to even approach self-sufficiency in the protein supplements required for our animal feed ingredients.The provision of high protein feed is a critical requirement for the Irish beef, pig and poultry sectors. This animal feed is derived from imported GM soybean and GM maize products (corn gluten feed, distillers dried grain), which are primarily sourced from the US, Brazil and Argentina. All GM feed distributed in Ireland has been authorised by the European Commission as safe for consumption. Since 2005, over 4.4 million tonnes (t) of GM animal feed (see table below) have been imported to offset the deficit in domestic feed supplies.
GM feedstocks imported into Ireland in 2005, 2006 and 2007
Note: The decrease in maize imports in has arisen due to the difficulty in sourcing on the global markets GM maize authorised by the European Commission for import into member states and is not due to any decrease in demand by Irish farmers. This is reflected in the increased tonnage of GM soya that was imported in the same period to compensate for the shortage of GM maize feed.
Safety assessment of GM animal feed
It is important to note that all imported GM animal feed is regulated and verified as safe for consumption by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) prior to its inclusion in the food chain. This comprehensive regulatory process takes approximately 2 years with authorisation granted only after the completion of a full scientific risk assessment of the GM crop material.
Critical to this process is the input gathered from the relevant food safety agencies of each member state (e.g. Food Safety Authority of Ireland), as each scientific risk assessment conducts a comparative anlaysis between the GM feed and an equivalent non-GM feed. Specifically, this examines:
- the potential for allergenicity from the GM feed
- the nutritional composition of the GM feed
- the potential for toxicity from ingesting the GM feed
- the influence of processing on the properties of the GM animal feed
- the potential for long-term nutritional impact
- the possibility for unintended effects due to the genetic modification
At the end of this process the EFSA Scientific Committee provides an opinion (for example) to the European Commission as to the safety of the GM animal feed in question. The European Commission prepares its decision on whether to grant or refuse authorisation. If they propose to grant authorisation, the official recommendation of approval is disseminated to representatives of the Member States for consideration.
Cost to livestock farmers substituting imported GM feed with a non-GM equivalent?
There has been a debate recently as to the merits of substituting the imported GM feed with a non-GM equivalent. As part of the ongoing GM crop risk assessment programme, Teagasc pre-empted the debate by examining the economic impact of such a scenario on the beef and dairy sectors in 2006.
The findings of this report clearly concluded that such a scenario would negatively impact the dairy sector by up to €17.7 million and the beef sector by up to €18.6 million. The adoption of a GM-free approach to animal feedstuffs would also impact on the pig and poultry sectors which rely heavily on the use of GM feed in the animal's diet.
This Teagasc research concurs with the conclusions of a report by the European Commisssion's Directorate General of the Agriculture and Rural Development which states that countries such as Ireland would experience substantial economic consequences in trying to replace current GM maize products with non-GM material.
While the Teagasc GM-free study was initially conducted as a predictive exercise, the developments at EU level have highlighted the accuracy of the report in predicting that a disruption to the current GM-feed supply would elevate costs for the farmer.