Last updated on 6 December 2012
GM material in animal feed
Guidance on the assessment and authorisation of GM varieties for use in animal feed, the source and quantities of GMOs imported for use in feed, and associated data.
About this information
Applies to all four UK nations
This information is for:
- farmers and growers
- manufacturers and processors
- retailers, caterers and carers
This is not a guide to either best practice or to compliance with the legislation.
Data includes annual harvest figures in commodity crop-exporting countries.
The use of GM varieties in animal feed
Before a genetically modified organism (GMO) can be marketed in the European Union (EU), it must be granted consent (i.e. authorised) under European legislation - EC Regulation 1829/2003 laying down the authorisation procedures for GM food and feed (the 'GM Food and Feed Regulation'). If the GMO is to be grown in the EU it must also be authorised under Directive 2001/18 on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs (the Deliberate Release Directive).
These requirements apply to both living GMOs, such as maize and soya beans, and to feed and food ingredients derived from the processing of GM crops. The authorisation procedure includes an assessment, by the Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), of the safety of both the GMO and the food or feed derived from it. The Panel’s scientific advice is then taken into account by the Commission and Member States when deciding whether to authorise the GMO for use in the EU.
On the basis of these assessments, there is no reason to suppose that GM feed presents any more risk to farmed livestock than conventional feed. GM feed, which is very unlikely to contain viable GMOs, is digested by animals in the same way as conventional feed. Food from animals fed on authorised GM crops is considered to be as safe as food from animals fed on non-GM crops.
Transfer of GM material from feed
There have been some concerns that functional transgenes from GM-derived feed materials might be incorporated into livestock products for human consumption (milk, meat and eggs).
Biologically active genes and proteins are common constituents of food and feed, but digestion in both animals and humans is known to rapidly degrade their DNA, and the subsequent uptake of DNA fragments from the intestinal tract into the body is a normal physiological process.
In a statement published on 20 July 2007, EFSA advised that 'a large number of experimental studies with livestock have shown that recombinant DNA fragments or proteins derived from GM plants have not been detected in tissues, fluids or edible products of farm animals like broilers, cattle, pigs or quails'.
When reviewing the issue later the same year, EFSA noted that 'the recombinant sequence is present in the GM plant only as a single or low copy number, which makes the potential absorption a rare event and therefore difficult to detect', and that 'when more studies are carried out with more sensitive detection methods, such recombinant DNA fragments may be more frequently found in the future'.
It is therefore possible that DNA fragments derived from GM plant materials may occasionally be detected in animal tissues, in the same way that DNA fragments derived from non-GM plant materials can be detected in these same tissues.
EFSA also noted that 'no technique is currently available to enable a valid and reliable tracing of animal products (meat, milk, eggs) when the producer animals have been fed a diet incorporating GM plants'.
Authorisation of GMOs
Before the GM Food and Feed Regulation came into force, ten plant lines with potential use in animal feed had been licensed for commercialisation in the EU under EC Directive 2001/18 on deliberate releases.
There were also several products on the European market derived from plant lines which had not been authorised under this Directive because there had been no intention to commercialise the plants themselves in the EU. All were granted temporary authorisation under the GM Food and Feed Regulation pending their evaluation by the EFSA and decisions on their continued use.
Temporary and full authorisations granted under the GM Food and Feed Regulation mean that, as at March 2012, there are 47 GMOs with a possible use in feed in the EU - 26 varieties of maize, eight varieties of cotton, six varieties of soya bean, three varieties of oilseed rape, one each of potato and sugar beet, and two micro-organisms.
Apart from the micro-organisms, these varieties have been produced to have resistance to certain herbicides or insect pests or in some cases both, except for the potato which has an enhanced starch content. Further details of these varieties are given in the register on the Commission’s website, available through the link at the bottom of this page.
All of these GM varieties have been authorised for import and processing. Only three of them - the starch potato and two of the maize varieties - have been licensed for cultivation, although one of the maize varieties cannot be grown in the EU because it has still to be included in the Common Catalogue of approved seed varieties. Small quantities of the other maize are currently grown commercially in the Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain, but the seed is not marketed in the UK. The potato is currently grown in Germany and Sweden, but will not be grown in the UK because it does not have the required starch processing facilities.
A larger number of GM plant lines, including varieties of cotton, maize, oilseed rape, rice and soya bean, which have not been authorised for use in the EU, but have been approved for growing elsewhere in the world, particularly major commodity-exporting countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, India and the USA.
In general, the EU's authorisation procedures for new GM varieties tend to be slower than those of other countries, a time-lag known as 'asynchronous authorisation'. To deal with the possible presence of unauthorised varieties in imports of commodity crops, the EU has adopted a measure, Regulation 619/2011, which sets a tolerance level of 0.1% for certain varieties for which a valid application for an EU authorisation has been made and which fulfil the requirements set out in Article 2 of the Regulation.
Feed materials and compound feeds that contain GM or GM-derived material are required to be labelled to state as much.
Labelling is not required for feed consignments containing adventitious or technically unavoidable traces of GM material, up to a threshold of 0.9% for GM varieties approved in the EU.
According to the European Feed Manufacturers' Association (FEFAC), at least 85% (around 107 million tonnes) of the EU's compound feed production is now labelled to indicate that it contains GM or GM-derived material.
Supplies of GM material to the EU
The spread of biotechnology through commodity-exporting countries means that supplies of feed materials to the EU will contain a proportion of GM-derived products. It is not possible to quantify this as there is no legal requirement to collect such data, but these imports are considered by the EU feed industry as unavoidable because the EU is not self-sufficient in protein-rich feed.
The European Feed Manufacturers' Association estimates that the EU feed industry imports annually over 70% of its soya and rapeseed requirements. Ninety Eight % of the soya bean meal imported by the EU is sourced from Brazil and Argentina, which are major producers of GM soya. Brazil and Argentina also supply the EU with significant quantities of maize for starch manufacture, the by-products of which go for feed use; much of this will be GM. The UK imports cotton meal from Brazil, India and China, which are major producers of GM cotton.
Identity preservation - i.e., the segregation of GM and non-GM crops after harvest and during transport, storage and subsequent use - is not routinely practised by commodity-exporting countries, but can be achieved at a premium.
The additional price paid will vary according to the state of the commodity markets and the nature of demand for the end products (milk, meat and eggs for human consumption).
Quantities of GM feed materials grown worldwide
In 2011, the total global area sown with GM crops was estimated as 160 million hectares in 29 countries. This was the sixteenth consecutive year of increase, up from 148 million hectares in 2010, 134 million hectares in 25 countries in 2009, 125 million hectares in 2008 and 114.3 million hectares in 23 countries in 2007. It is further estimated that 90% of the 16.7 million farmers who grow GM crops are located in developing countries such as China, India, the Philippines and South Africa, and that most of these farmers are producing on a smaller scale than their industrial-scale equivalents in the Americas.
Developing countries are estimated to account for 50% of the world's GM crop production.
The USA is the largest producer of GM commodity crops. In 2011, it grew 69 million hectares, followed by Brazil in second place with 30.3 million hectares and Argentina in third place with 23.7 million hectares. The other top ten GM commodity crop producing countries, each with more than 1 million hectares in production, were (in order) India, Canada, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa and Uruguay.
The leading GM crop in the Americas is soya bean, which by volume accounts for just under half of all the GM crops grown worldwide. Genetically modified maize is the second most common crop, accounting for a third of global GM production, again mostly from the Americas. Canada is the leading producer of GM oilseed rape. Brazil, India and China account for the bulk of GM cotton production.
GM crops now occupy over 10% of the world’s arable land, an area over five times the size of the UK.
|Global cultivation||Total||GM varieties|
|Soya bean||95 million||75.4 million (79%)|
|Maize||157 million||51 million (33%)|
|Cotton||34 million||24.7 million (73%)|
|Oilseed rape||30 million||8.2 million (27%)|
|Total for the above four crops||316 million||159.3 million (50%)|
Sources: European Commission; Food Standards Agency; Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; European Feed Manufacturers' Association; International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.