Last week Amaranta and I attended a roundtable and a thematic workshop on GM-free feedstuff for organic and non-GM sectors organised by IFOAM EU in Ulm, Germany. The events gathered key stakeholders along the organic and GM-free feed value chain, from farmers to retailers, but also taking into account certifiers, researchers, policy-makers and advisors or consumers’ associations with the objective to find strategies for increasing the availability of GM-free feed in Europe. The activities are part of the project Keeping GMOs out of food coordinated by IFOAM EU aiming to strengthen the capacity of organic and conventional sectors in Europe to stay GMO-free.
Europe is highly dependent on inputs from third countries for fulfilling the internal demand for feedstock, a problem which is aggravated in the organic sector. In this sense, major changes in production are required (including the introduction or re-introduction of alternative and/or traditional protein sources and/or the reduction of livestock). In this context, I did a presentation on the situation in Spain, which is highly aggravated by the very difficult coexistence between GM and non-GM maize, which is almost impossible for organic maize in the GM maize producing areas (e.g. Catalonia and Aragon) (Binimelis, 2009). Besides the consequences for food sovereignty, the environmental impacts connected to the importation of millions of tonnes of soy and maize (among other crops) are also high, especially since agriculture – and the transport of commodities worldwide – is a key source of greenhouse emissions and a depletion of energy resources.
I found it a very interesting and strategic initative to bring together stakeholders from both the organic and conventional production systems in order to share their main challenges for the production of GM free feed, but also for defining common strategies to face common problems, to increase availability of GM-free feed and to better communicate to the consumer which are the systems (and the values associated to them) that he or she is contributing to when choosing a product at the shop shelves. We had very interesting debates on aspects such as the pros and cons of establishing GMO-free labels (as exist in many European countries like France or Germany not only for the GM products themselves but also for the animal derivatives (e.g. eggs or milk) from animals fed with GMOs), and the possibility to harmonise the standards of the different national labels. Can the organic and conventional sector agree on a common strategy on labeling taking into account that the organic production is not using GMOs by definition? Would such a label induce the consumer to think that conventional products labelled as non-GM do not contain GMOs but organic products do?
We also had enlightening discussions on the conventionalisation of organic agriculture and the risks this poses for losing the essence of its character by leaving aside values such as simplicity, localising production in both spacial and social terms, trust or transparency.