German chicken farms buy genetically modified soybeans

Mateusz Perkowski
German producers have decided to feed their poultry genetically engineered soybeans, which biotech proponents say bodes well for transgenic crops in Europe.

German farmers have broken their promise not to feed poultry genetically engineered soybeans, which biotech supporters see as a step in the right direction.

A conglomerate of German poultry associations known as ZDG has announced poultry producers are backing away from their 14-year commitment to using only non-GE soybeans.

The decision came as the result of reduced supplies and higher prices for non-GE soybeans, according to reports from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

Non-GE soybeans have traded at prices up to 30 percent higher than biotech soybeans and Brazil — a major soybean producer — is expected to reduce the size of its non-GE crop, according to FAS.

It’s also getting harder for German farmers to guarantee that they feed poultry non-GE soybeans due to the prevalence of cross-pollinated biotech traits in the conventional crop, the report said.

The situation in Germany reflects a broader economic reality as major exporters turn to more biotech crops, said Mary Boote, CEO of Truth about Trade & Technology, a non-profit that supports GE crops.

Genetically engineered crops are also described as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and as biotech.

“It’s become a sustainability issue and a market reality,” said Boote.

The change represents a market opportunity for U.S. soybean growers, who commonly rely on biotech traits, she said.

It’s particularly noteworthy that the situation has unfolded in Germany, Boote said. “Germany historically has been one of the strong anti-GE voices in Europe.”

Livestock and poultry feed made from transgenic crops is less likely to cause an uproar than GE food that’s consumed by people, she said.

For that reason, biotech feed may establish an important foothold for GE crops in Europe and elsewhere, Boote said.

“I think the livestock industry will be one of the drivers of GE acceptance in Europe,” she said.

The U.S., Brazil and Argentina produce much of the world’s export supply of feed crops that producers in Europe need, said Matt O’Mara, managing director for food and ag for the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Those major exporters are also increasingly willing to grow GE crops, which affects feed importers, he said.

“As more countries go to using tools that biotechnology offers, it will present more difficulties to countries that are dependent on imports but don’t have regulations that are science-based,” O’Mara said.

Over time, producers may find it harder to source feed that’s made without genetically modified organisms, he said.

“There’s always going to be non-GMO available but it’s going to come at a high premium,” O’Mara said.

Concerns about scarce supplies of conventional crops are actually scare tactics meant to convince people that the rise of GE crops is inevitable, said Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, which opposes biotech crops.

“I see this as part of a longer term effort to convince the world that there is no going back, everything has to be GM,” Freese said. “They’re trying to shape reality with predictions like that.”

Part of the reason German farmers may report lower supplies of non-GE soybeans is that China has become a major buyer of the conventional crop, Freese said.

Claims that non-GE crops are losing popularity are undermined by developments like the new port being built along Brazil’s Madeira River to accommodate conventional crops, he said.

“I don’t know where they got this idea non-GE production is going to drop so dramatically,” Freese said. “It seems to be going in the opposite direction.”

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