Trade Talk

Where Is This Soya?

103816_hiresHave any of you ever heard of the Danube Soya Initiative…? That’s what I thought.

It is Europe’s most significant (and only) attempt to boost conventional non-GM soya production in countries along the banks of the Danube River. Why do we need to boost the production you ask? Because European farmers and our animals are highly dependent on this irreplaceable high-protein feed.

Despite this, EU cultivation of soya accounts for no more than 5% of our needs with 1.7 million tonnes of conventional soya beans being grown on the European territory.

As a result, for many years now the EU has depended on imports of soya beans from Argentina, Brazil and the USA, where 90% of cultivated soya beans are genetically modified (GM). To give you an idea of number, in 2014 the EU imported almost 34 million tonnes of this crop, which amounts to about the combined weight of all EU citizens (60kg per EU citizen).

Now the European Commission has put forth a legislative proposal to allow Member States to put national bans in place on the use of imported GMOs, bans which must be based on non-scientific grounds (because science endorses GMOs). I will not go into detail about the numerous negative consequences such a proposal could have on the internal market, farmers’ livelihoods and businesses in Europe (and ultimately jobs and growth).

What I will ask however is: what exactly are we going to feed our animals with instead?

You may hear some saying, that we have reinvigorated the Danube Soya Initiative to respond to that particular question. This would be all fine and well if the Danube Soya Initiative were a fully-fledged alternative to the current soya imports, which sadly it is not and will never be. As mentioned previously, it currently accounts for less than 5% of our needs, and growing conventional soya beans in Europe on a large scale is simply unrealistic and economically inefficient. The chances for the required exponential increase productivity are quite small, given that breeding the right variety and cultivating it on a large scale not only takes time and investment but also space not to mention the right agricultural and climatic conditions, which Europe is not exactly famous for. Indeed soya is crop that requires particular agronomic conditions present in few EU countries to prosper and is threatened by fierce weed competition, which by the way explains the wide-spread global uptake of GM soya that eliminates weed competition and optimises yields.

In 2006 farmers in Romania chose to grow genetically modified soya beans on 72% of the land dedicated to soya bean cultivation. Sadly, since accession, Romanian farmers are denied the choice of growing GM soya.

In Europe, soya used to be cultivated extremely successfully and in much larger quantities in Romania in the form of GM soya, before its accession to the EU in 2007, to the point that the EU was importing soya from Romania. Just to give you an idea, in 2006 farmers in Romania chose to grow genetically modified soya beans on 72% of the land dedicated to soya bean cultivation. Sadly, since accession, Romanian farmers are denied the choice of growing GM soya as GM soya products are only approved for (very successful) cultivation elsewhere in the world and not in the EU. And so after accession we observed a decline in 68% of Romania’s soya bean cultivation, a lost opportunity for the country and for Europe as a whole. Moreover, by stopping, or rather being forced to stop, the cultivation of GM soya beans, Romania lost 1 billion euros between 2007 and 2013, according to the former Romanian agriculture minister.

So let us continue to restrict our farmers’ freedom to choose and tell them what’s best for them. We did it for GMO cultivation, now we want to do it for imports. Just let us not be surprised when we see that it is our farmers and ultimately us – consumers – who will pay the price.

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