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Tuesday 23 October 2018

Gearing up for the GM-free food future

Bord Bia analysts are keeping a watchful eye on the rising demand for GM-free food in the US and main European markets

Minister Andrew Doyle and Rachel White from Ornua pictured at the Kerrygold stand during the ANUGA food trade fair in Cologne. Photo: Chris Bellew
Minister Andrew Doyle and Rachel White from Ornua pictured at the Kerrygold stand during the ANUGA food trade fair in Cologne. Photo: Chris Bellew
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

The rise in demand for non- GMO (genetically modified organisms) products in Germany is not an immediate threat to Irish agri-food exporters, but it is a trend that we need to respond to, Bord Bia analysts say.

At present, Ireland produces no GMO-free products, even though yields of GM-free crops and the launch of GM-free dairy products are becoming more widespread in places like Germany, the US and Scandinavia.

Germany is Ireland's sixth largest market and was worth €600m in exports in 2016.

Speaking at the recent ANUGA food trade fair in Cologne, Bord Bia's German manager Donal Denvir said that the demand for non- GM products is very "real" in the German dairy sector and that meat is not far behind.

"It has arrived in the mainstream in dairy. If you go to Lidl in Germany you can now buy GM-free milk for a very cheap price and it's locally produced. We haven't really seen it at the same level in meat but it exists. So my analysis of that is that trend will continue," he said.

While Irish products have a high reputation in Germany, Mr Denvir added that non- GM products produced in Germany also market themselves in this way and that the Irish food sector has to be ready to face this threat.

"Our position in Germany is already very strong but beef consumption there is around 70pc domestic so the regionality trend is huge in Germany, and that same sentiment of regionality that people are looking for is expressed in non- GM. If Germany can produce it they would be looking at entering that space and building on it," he said.

Bord Bia CEO Tara McCarthy told the Farming Independent that they are in the middle of tendering out a large study on GM. She said the research will help them determine whether non- GM is a trend that is worth the Irish food industry investing in or whether it is just a consumer fad.

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"Non- GM is a very big trend both in the US and Germany. What we're looking to do is to understand the industry because it's a relatively new industry and there are a lot of feelings about it; what we're trying to do is gather the data. Fundamentally, good decisions are based on good data."

Costs

"Is it a real structural change that is happening in the industry or is it just a fad? Is it trendy to be GMO one year and non-GMO the next?"

She added that if Ireland were to invest in non- GM, it would be a costly process as at present no such products are made here; she pointed out that therefore investment should not be made on a whim.

"If Ireland were to follow the non-GM model there would be huge cost implications. It's not something that should be based on the opinion of one or the opinion of ten, so what we're looking at is going around the world to understand the data and bring that back to Ireland and allow informed decisions to be made," she said.

According to Bord Bia's director of markets Padraig Brennan, the sustainability-type messaging and grass-fed image that Ireland is pushing in Germany at the moment fits in with a lot of the requirements that those interested in non- GM products look for.

"From own point of view, that grass-fed approach of non-GM fits well in to what we offer as a country anyway. In markets like Germany, the non-GM trend is there but when you dig in to see what a consumer thinks of when they think of non-GM, that can vary. We need to be clear on what that is and where we can fit in," he explained.

Across the water, Jane King, CEO of the UK's Agricultural and Horticulture Development Board, said that in this Brexit climate we should look at non- GM trend more seriously.

"There's very much a green mentality in the EU. I think there are some people in the UK in this post-Brexit world that think it's something we should look at more seriously," she said.

"There may be some more freedoms there, but of course in Scotland, they are anti-GM. I think all of these things will need to be revisited in the light of the changing landscape."

Leading Irish food companies are not concerned by the growing trend. Denis O'Riordan of Kerry Foods said that he doesn't feel Ireland's grass-fed reputation would be enhanced by non- GM.

"I wouldn't say non-GM is a threat. We deal with a fantastic dairy company here in Bavaria and they launched a GM-free product last year and it didn't go that well.

I'm not sure if people understand what it is. I'm not sure it has the extra appeal people talk about," he said.

For Rory Fanning of Slaney Meats, non- GM is not an immediate concern, but he said that the industry should be more open to discussing it as it is a growing topic.

"For me it's not a worry, it's a matter of being ready and being out there communicating so there is total transparency about what is happening, whether it's climate sustainability or animal welfare," he said.

"Overall Ireland has a fantastic message to bring."

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