Europe’s acceptance of genetically modified canola seed represents an important new market for Canadian farmers, but purchases from the world’s largest exporter of canola seed are unlikely any time soon.
The European Commission ruled March 10 to allow import of a type of canola, which German seed developer Bayer CropScience created by modifying the canola gene. T45 canola has been obsolete for four years, but it’s the last of six genetic modifications, called events, to gain approval in Europe.
Those genetic modifications, which generate herbicide tolerance, are used in seed varieties developed by Monsanto and Bayer. Since Canada doesn’t segregate its GM and non-GM canola seed, none of it has entered Europe since GM canola was commercialized in Canada in 1995.
“I think it’s a major breakthrough,” said JoAnne Buth, president of the Canola Council of Canada. “It’s a huge step.”
GM canola seed can now be used in Europe for processing use, but not replanting.
Prices and large exports from Ukraine into Europe mean Canada won’t export much to the continent until at least fall, Buth said. As the production of biofuels grows, however, Europe could eventually buy one million tonnes per year, Buth predicted.
Canadian canola oil, crushed from GM and non-GM seed, already ships to Europe for biofuel. Canola is the last major GM seed to gain acceptance into Europe, Buth said. The European Union already accepts GM corn and soybeans.
European purchases are unlikely in the near future because of ample supplies, Hamburg-based oilseeds analyst Oil World forecast this month. Imports are possible after this summer, Oil World said. The timeline could accelerate if Canadian prices fall, the analyst said.
Some market participants are skeptical animal feed meal produced from imported GMO canola would find enough buying interest as it would have to be labelled as containing GMOs, Oil World said. Many consumers are still suspicious about the safety of GMO foods.
LACK OF DISCLOSURE
The activist group Greenpeace, which opposes GMO food over what it terms a lack of public disclosure around scientific testing, said the commission’s decision doesn’t mean Canada will actually ship much canola to Europe.
“Between having this market officially open and actually coming into reality is a long way,” said Eric Darier, a Greenpeace GMO activist based in Canada. The risk to farmers is that gaining access to Europe may provoke a backlash if GMO seed accidentally is spilled in transit, he said.
“It would be very unwise to export it in the form of seed,” Darier said.
Canadian canola seed will likely be used in Europe for biofuel, not food, which companies there must label for genetic modified ingredients, Darier said.
Farmers now grow both conventional and GM canola, although modified canola accounts for about 85 per cent, Buth said.
Canada is the world’s largest exporter of canola seed. It expects to ship a record seven million tonnes of canola seed from the 2008-09 crop year, especially to the U. S., Japan and China. Canada is currently the only exporter of GM canola, although Australia has begun planting the same varieties and can now also export to Europe.