Farmers face an imminent shortage of animal feed because a handful of countries are blocking the approval of genetically modified crops, the European Union’s farm chief warned on Monday.
Mariann Fischer Boel, the agriculture commissioner, told agriculture ministers that breaking a logjam of GMO applications would throw a lifeline to dairy and pig farmers who face high prices for non-GM feed.
Farmers’ groups have warned they face a “serious shortage” of livestock feed in a matter of weeks because of the EU’s zero tolerance of unapproved GMOs in imported feed and foodstuffs.
Copa-Cogeca, the farmers’ group, says non-GM feed will add almost €1bn ($1.4bn, £877m) to the cost of raising livestock this year.
The EU imports nearly two-thirds of the 33.5m tonnes of the soyabean meal used by the food and livestock industry annually.
Some 200,000 tonnes of US soyabeans have been blocked at EU ports this year because they contained trace amounts of two varieties of GM maize that have been declared safe by the commission’s scientific arm, but not yet approved by member states.
The situation has become more severe this year because a drought in Argentina, one of the EU’s largest suppliers, has cut its soyabean production.
“If we don’t solve the problem of zero tolerance shortly, then we will have to stop the imports altogether,” said Klaus-Dieter Schumacher, president of Coceral, the trade group that represents Europe’s cereal and foodstuff makers.
The UK and the Netherlands, supporters of GMOs, were among a group of eight member states that expressed support for Ms Fischer Boel’s remarks, according to a person involved in the discussions. Austria, a GMO opponent, and Poland expressed scepticism.
Opposition from a handful of EU member states has repeatedly stalled the final approval of GMO products that have otherwise been cleared by the European Food Safety Authority, the EU’s scientific advisory arm.
The commission says continued resistance to GMOs could see European farmers lose market share to imported GM-fed meat.
“The worst case scenario is that eventually it becomes so expensive to import protein that our own guys go out of business and we end up importing meat from countries fed on the same GMOs not approved for use here,” a commission official said.
Ms Fischer Boel’s comments came as dairy farmers rallied in Brussels, demanding more support amid a prolonged slump in milk prices. France and other countries have also repeatedly asked for financial aid for pork producers, arguing that they are suffering from low prices.
Commission officials have indicated that they are unable to provide more financial assistance after directing billions of euros in aid to the sector through emergency payments and market interventions.