HAMBURG, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Imports of U.S. gluten feed to the European Union have been virtually stopped because of concern they might contain unapproved genetically modified organisms (GMOs), traders and industry associations said on Wednesday.
“Corn gluten shipments from the U.S. are at a standstill,” one trader said. “The problem of unapproved GMOs is preventing business taking place.”
The EU imported about 1.0 tonnes of corn gluten feed in the Sept. 2010/Oct. 2011 crop season, German analysts Oil World estimates. This is small compared to 24 million tonnes of soymeal and 13 million of soybeans imported for animal use, but the loss of 1 million tonnes will be painful to the feed industry which traditionally works with tight profit margins.
EU policy on GMO crops has long been politically fraught, with a majority of consumers opposed to modified foods. But the EU is reliant on imports of about 30 million tonnes of GMO animal feed each year and is compelled to legalise imports of new GMO crops to secure farm feed supplies.
As of August 2011 37 GMO crops were approved for import into the EU for either human use or animal feed, according European biotech association EuropaBio. However, 90 have been approved for markets in the United States.
With consumer resistance strong, the EU approval process for new GMO crops is much slower than in the U.S. and South America. This has disrupted international trade as American farmers grow and market new GMO crop types which are unapproved in the EU and so illegal to import.
“As yet another GMO corn event (crop type) has been approved in the U.S. and not yet in Europe, trading houses are not importing corn gluten in case the new variety appears in large volumes and the ship gets refused permission to unload,” another trader said.
In autumn 2009, EU imports of U.S. soybeans were interrupted for several months after ships were refused permission to unload as they contained GMO crops approved in the U.S. but not in the EU.
Traders say the latest problem is with the new GMO corn of type MIR162 Agrisure Viptera from Swiss group Syngenta which was approved for cultivation in the U.S. in 2010 but is unapproved in the EU.
“As people do not know if MIR162 is in the corn gluten they are importing the purchases in the U.S. have stopped,” the first trader said. “If a shipment is blocked it could cause huge financial losses.”
Corn gluten, left over from making corn starch and syrup is largely used as cattle fodder. As a processed product traders cannot know the source of all ingredients.
To avoid disruptions to animal feed imports, the EU this year adopted rules allowing tiny amounts of 0.1 percent of unapproved GM crops in shipments often picked up in transport.
“Traders are not taking the risk because the 0.1 tolerance level is a step in the right direction but it is too low,” said Teresa Babuscio, secretary general of European grain trade association Coceral.
“We are seeing that shippers are not ready to take the risk of a trade blockage here with cargoes being stopped or rejected at European borders,” said Alexander Doering, secretary general of the European feed manufacturers Federation Fefac. “The main direct alternative would be rapeseed meal which is the product feed compounders will be looking towards.”
Doering stressed that the loss of the corn gluten imports would not cause a major supply shortage but 1 million tonnes was a significant market volume.
“Overall it is clear that because of GM laws here restricting supplies, this translates into higher costs for feed producers,” Doering said.
Coceral and Fefac are both calling for a more systematic approach to EU GMO approvals because of the regular number of new approvals being made in the U.S. and South America.
“Today it is the MIR162, tomorrow there will be some other event,” said Babuscio. “This (approvals process) is something which needs to be dealt with in a more consistent and robust way.”
A decision was not expected on the Syngenta corn until at least mid-2012, Doering added. This could allow European purchases of the U.S. 2012 crop but not from the 2011 crop. (Reporting by Michael Hogan and Ivana Sekularac; editing by Keiron Henderson)