By Theodora Filis
GMO corn and corn byproducts have become a lightning rod for controversy these days. European traders say the latest problem is with the new genetically modified organism (GMO) corn gluten feed – MIR162 Agrisure Viptera – from Swiss group Syngenta, approved for cultivation in the US in 2010, but has not been approved in the EU.
Last month, Imports of US gluten feed were held up by the European Union (EU) because of concerns they might contain unapproved GMOs. European trading houses are not importing corn gluten feed from the US in case the new GMO variety appears in large volumes and the ship gets refused permission to unload.
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. In the US alone, 90 GMO crops have been approved for markets in the US.
Many argue corn gluten feed is contrary to the natural eating habits of animals and pets, and nothing more than cheap filler material, and not very digestible. As a pesticide active ingredient, corn gluten meal is intended for residential non-food use on lawns to prevent emergence of grassy and broad-leaved weeds, and is common in many food/feed products and in dietary supplements for humans and animals. Corn gluten meal is used extensively by the poultry industry as a source of protein and xanthophyll. GPC corn gluten meal is used in poultry rations to produce poultry products with that “healthy golden glow” consumer’s demand.
The EU policy on GMO crops has long been politically fraught, with a majority of European consumers opposed to GMOs. The EU's dependence GMO animal feed – approx. 30 million tonnes each year – has compelled them to legalize imports of new GMO crops to secure farm feed supplies.
With consumer resistance strong, the EU approval process for new GMO crops is much slower than in the US and South America, disrupting international trade as US farmers grow, and market, new GMO crop types which are unapproved in the EU and illegal to import.
As a processed product traders cannot know the source of all ingredients in corn gluten. To avoid disruptions to animal feed imports, the EU adopted rules, in 2011, allowing tiny amounts of 0.1 percent of unapproved GM crops in shipments often picked up in transport.
A decision is not expected on the Syngenta corn until at least mid-2012, allowing European purchases of the US 2012 crop, but not from the 2011 crop.