Brazilian soy exporters, crushers and farmers should 'keep their eyes on' German GM free trend, says retailer

Brazilian soy exporters, crushers and farmers should 'keep their eyes on' German GM free trend, says retailer

There is a now a huge momentum in Germany to convert all private label meat sectors to GM free soy, said the German Association of Food without Genetic Engineering (VLOG). 

“The transition to non genetically modififed (GM) soy is taking place in meat sectors beyond poultry and we are seeing discounters like Lidl and Aldi getting on board. We have a much stronger commitment now from the retail sector overall regarding the use of GM free soy in own label meat, egg and milk products,” Alexander Hissting, general manager of VLOG, told FeedNavigator.

And Dr Ludger Breloh, head of strategic purchases/green products for the Rewe Group, the second biggest retailer in Germany with a presence in 11 other European markets, has been creating awareness around the trend.

In an article posted on the Global Grain South America conference website, he wrote that the increasing retailer demand for certified non-GM soybean meal in Germany is a potential industry game changer and a shift Brazilian exporters, crushers and farmers should “keep their eyes on".

He said that Rewe and other German supermarkets have begun conversations with their entire supply chains with the aim of having as many private label meat products using GM free soy feed.

“This target market is here to stay due to an ever-growing consumer demand in Germany and beyond. Brazilian suppliers as well as service providers in South America and in Europe are needed to keep it going and growing,” he wrote, noting the interest in GM free soy meal in France, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary and Italy.

Hissting said the Rewe buyer is raising the flag to ensure the feed sector and traders realize it is important to maintain demand at a level that encourages Brazilian soy producers to keep cultivating non GM soy.

It’s a topic with political support.

In August, on a visit to Brasilia with Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the German minister for agriculture, Christian Schmidt, told media that expansion of non GM soy production in Brazil was high on the German agenda in terms of the talks between the two governments.

Since the mid-1990s, all three soy origin countries — Brazil, Argentina and the US — have seen a rapid increase in the cultivation of GM soybeans. Only Brazil still produces about 10m Mt of GM free soy out of the total 90m Mt cultivated.

Germany needs 4.5 million metric tons of soybean meal from overseas to meet its animal sector protein gap. Typically, dairy cows and fattening cattle get 0.8m Mt of that volume, while poultry receive 1.2m Mt and pigs 2.5m Mt.

Dairy, pork switch

Rewe has already made its broiler and layer supply chain GM free, wrote Breloh. By the end of this year, it expects to realize the same for its turkey private label products, while talks with its dairy processors include tenders demanding GM free soy.

Negotiations are also under way with suppliers so that, as of 2016, pork can also be labeled as ‘GM free’ using the VLOG seal, revealed the buyer.

And Deutsches Milchkontor (DMK), Germany’s largest dairy company, has reportedly decided to follow the retailer trend by converting the over 200,000 Mt of soybean meal it uses to GM free by 2018. 

Non GMO Labelling

A survey Greenpeace commissioned in April 2014 on this topic showed 79% of German consumers felt it was important or very important that poultry is not fed with GM feed, 93% of shoppers said they wanted a poultry product or egg labelled as such when produced with GM feed, and 61% of respondents said they would pay 0.50 cents more for GM free chicken meat.

VLOG, which allows licensees the use of the OG – no genetic engineering – stamp on manufactured food products that meet the standard, said if operators in the feed sector want to comply with the OG labelling criteria, they must aim for no GM content.

This means they can show, at most, traces of up to 0.1% GM raw materials.

There are exceptional cases where the law permits a higher presence of GMs. “These exceptions are documented as ‘adventitious’ or ‘technically unavoidable’. In such cases GM content of up to 0.9% can be permitted as per EU Regulations 1829/2003 and 1830/2003,” said the association.

Retailer offensive against ZDG

The developments are in marked contrast to the events of 18 months ago when German poultry companies announced they would have to switch to GM soy for the dietary needs of their birds, reneging on a 14-year-old pledge to only use GM free.

German poultry trade association, the ZDG, said, at the time, that the industry was forced to take such action due to the hike in the costs of the premium attached to sourcing non GM soy and the risk of cross-contamination of the GM free variant with GM soy.

But the body took the decision without convening a meeting with the retail sector, and the supermarkets have been on the offensive ever since, demanding poultry producers fulfil their contract obligations and revert to sourcing GM free soy.

In addition, Greenpeace initiated a campaign in March 2014 against the ZDG move: “We wanted to mobilize the German retailers and get them to hike up the pressure on the poultry segment to revert to GM free soy feeding,” said Stephanie Töwe, campaigner with Greenpeace in December last year. 

Politicians also weighed in on the debate.

“The poultry industry did not expect such a strong reaction. Indeed, it was rare to see retailers speaking with one voice. The decision of some supermarkets to substitute German poultry products with the equivalent from Italy and Austria was also quite a convincing argument,” said Hissting.

December 2014 saw the PHW Group, one of the biggest German poultry producers, switch to GM free feed, in a move that “motivated all competitors,” wrote Breloh.

The Rewe representative said he expects the entire German poultry production to be using non GM soy inputs by the end of 2016.

Tipping point

Hissting reckons there does not have to be 100% demand in order for the entire feed sector to only source GM free soy eventually: “There is a tipping point that will make it less expensive to migrate completely to GM free soy meal sourcing.”

He also noted a growing interest in developing GM free soy in Europe, through the likes of the Danube Soya project based in Austria.

“In a few years’ time, we could very well be looking back at the events of 2014 and seeing them as the trigger for the entire meat production industry in Germany to go GM soy free. Two years ago I would not have dreamt of such a development,” added Hissting.

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