2.3 million tonnes of the animal feed materials imported into Ireland last year were genetically modified (GM), the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) Pippa Hackett has confirmed.
In response to a question from independent Senator Victor Boyhan in the Seanad yesterday (Tuesday, November 22), the minister said that total feed production increased by 6% in 2021 to 5.4 million tonnes.
Of this number, 1.3 million tonnes was grown in Ireland, mainly consisting of cereals.
Last year, 4.1 million tonnes of feed material were imported into Ireland, which is down 3% compared to 2020 levels.
Around three quarters of this material is sourced from countries outside of the European Union, including Argentina, the US, Canada, Brazil and the UK.
The minister noted that significant quantities of maize and oilseed rape meal are imported from EU member states.
“Some 2.3 million tonnes of imported feed from third countries was genetically modified, representing 42% of the total animal feed production.
“The main genetically modified feeds imported are maize and maize byproducts, soya bean meal and soya hulls.
“More than one million tonnes of this imported genetically modified feed was maize or maize byproducts, distillers dry grains and maize gluten feed. Approximately 800,000t was soya bean and soya meal,” Hackett said.
The minister said that it is important for the Irish agriculture sector that there is a consistent supply of quality feed “as there is limited scope for alternative protein substitution from home or from EU-grown high-protein crops”.
She said that GM feed materials account for the bulk of the market and provide the lowest-cost source of proteins for feed manufacturers.
“It should be borne in mind that there is a significant additional cost of approximately €60 to €100/t for non-GM feed which can leave livestock production in Ireland at a competitive disadvantage compared to other countries that have the capacity to produce soya and other protein crops,” Hackett said.
Genetically modified feed
Genetically modified feed products require authorisation from the EU to be placed on the market in a member state.
Minister Hackett said that Irish government policy on biotechnology is “positive but precautionary” and relies on a favourable opinion from the European Food Safety Authority and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).
“My department carries out risk-based analysis and testing for the presence of authorised and non-authorised GM in feed imports,” she said.
Senator Victor Boyhan said that genetically modified food is “a big issue” which was highlighted to him by the Irish Rural Association.
“We talk at great length about not growing GM produce in this country but we are feeding our animals – sheep, poultry and cattle for beef – with this modified food.
“There is a little bit of misunderstanding but we need bigger labelling and more education and to be upfront and open, honest and transparent with the fact that we are using GM foods to feed animals in this country,” he said.
Senator Boyhan, who is a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, said that more statistics are needed on the testing of feedstuffs that is being carried out.