The grain industry reacted in shock as agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland was cited as announcing recently it would segregate all commodities that resulted from what many viewed as the most promising technology of the decadeQbiotechnology. These genetically modified organismsQor GMOs as theyUre calledQare now a mainstay of agricultural production, accounting for 30% of corn and more than 40% of soybeans.
But they havenUt been popular with all buyersQespecially when there is a political agenda at stake. Europeans have, according to this story, been especially virulent in their opposition to imported GMO products. European Union (EU) spokesperson Ella Krucoff in Washington, D.C. was cited as saying that their fears were fueled in part by mad cow disease outbreaks, says the GMOs are a new product, she says. And "Europeans are naturally more risk-averse, especially with food."
But if we canUt export GMO grain, the logical home for most of it is this nationUs livestock industry. The question for cattle, pork and poultry producers is, now will there be a GMO market debacle in their future? Thad Lively, vice president of international programs for the U.S. Meat Export Federation, was cited as saying that so far, the industry is trying to lay low, while working hard to be proactive with buyers, adding, "It is a source of concern for us, especially when you consider how quickly the issue blew up for the grain industry. You find yourself waiting for the other shoe to drop."
While importers havenUt asked much about GMO-fed meat yet, they may, according to this story, soon, as the issue threatens to become a scorcher. "I would expect them to start asking," says Phil Seng, CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
The livestock industry is especially worried about Asian buyersQwho havenUt yet publicly worried about beef fed with GMO grains but are, this story says, starting to issue statements about processing grains using non-GMOs. The Japanese, especially, are sticklers for food safety.
And, as all meat and grain producers now know, any uncertainty in that market can be very expensive for U.S.producers. In some cases, the GMO issue has become so out of control it is literally out of the hands of regulatory agencies, which have been largely responsible on the issue, says Lively, adding, "ItUs not the governments that are feeding the flames but the downstream buyers, who are in a rush to make consumers feel that theyUre concerned about food safety."
So right now, meat industry professionals are trying to develop a "back door" hatch to escape GMO hysteria in meat. One such solution is labeling. "Labeling is probably our way out of this issue," says Lively. Especially in Asia, now a dedicated U.S. meat consumer and with regulatory policy arms that are more measured than the EU, buyers have indicated they will continue to buy U.S. meat products but require them to be labeled should they be fed GMO grains.
The one problem with this strategy is, according to this story, that there is no scientific test to determine if an animal has been fed GMO grains. While some U.S. grain exporters have announced plans to segregate GMO and non-GMO grainsQand perhaps price accordinglyQthere is no way to do that in meat products that may have been fed GMO feedstuffs.
Still, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever to indicate that GMO residues will remain in meat products at all. Lively, was quoted as saying, "If you eat corn, you donUt become corn," "Any genetic modifications are broken down and do not remain in the meat."
ThatUs what the biotech companies have said so far. Lively does wish, though, that they would release the results of their internal studies in an effort to calm fears. "We are all in this together," Lively says. "If we are going to find our way out of this problem, we will have to do it together."
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Last Updated on 10/18/99
By Karen Lutz