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3-Food: US grain handlers see daunting task in separating GMOs

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TITLE:  US grain handlers see daunting task in separating GMOs
SOURCE: Reuters, by Chris Stebbins
DATE:   August 16, 2000

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US grain handlers see daunting task in separating GMOs

CHICAGO - The U.S. grain industry plans to make better efforts to 
separate out genetically modified (GMO) grains from non-GMO as it 
handles a record harvest this year, but few in the business are 
promising total success. "Less than 10 percent of the industry is 
engaged in segregation and we don't anticipate a strong need for it 
this fall," Thomas O'Connor, National Grain and Feed Association 
director of technical services, said. "The market demand for non-GMO 
crops is just not that strong," O'Connor said.

The United States is the world's largest grain exporter and GMO crops 
have already made huge in-roads into U.S. farming and the food 
system. The U.S. government has certified the crops, which mostly 
contain genes added to resist pests or herbicides, as safe for 
consumption and the environment. But in the last year, a storm of 
protests aimed at the use of GMOs by European consumer groups led 
many countries to propose that modified crops be certified, labeled 
and separated. Corn exports to the European Union, for example, have 
dropped 3-1/2 percent since the EU declared a moratorium on importing 
U.S. corn GMO varieties not yet approved by the EU.

Other major importers, including Japan and South Korea, have set 
plans for labeling such grains. But the response of the U.S. grain 
trade appears sanguine. A faith that science-based approvals of GMO's 
as safe for foods and the environment will win world consumers, a 
lack of deal-breaking protests from foreign buyers, and the innate 
problems with sorting almost 15 billion bushels of grain appear to be 
controlling the practical, real-world usage of GMOs.


A survey of 1,200 U.S. elevators this spring conducted by Farm 
Progress, a publisher of regional U.S. farm magazines, showed that 24 
percent of them planned to segregate corn and 20 percent planned to 
segregate soybeans this autumn. How those elevators will segregate 
crops come harvest seems to vary from one location to the next.

"We're requesting farmers to sign an affidavit that the seed they 
bought and planted is what they're delivering," said Scott Docherty, 
a grain merchandiser with Top Flight Grain, a cooperative in Bement, 
Ill. Top Flight will also spot check trucks as they deliver at 
harvest. Samples drawn will be run through an extensive lab test off-
site to check the DNA make-up, he said.

Major grain firms like Cargill and Central Soya say they are 
accepting both GMO and non-GMO crops but have designated specific 
elevators and processing plants as non-GMO delivery points in an 
effort to keep crops segregated. What makes the situation more 
interesting this year is the the likelihood of record-breaking crops -
 more than 10 billion bushels of corn and nearly 3 billion bushels of 
soybeans. Of that, more than half of the soybeans and a quarter of 
the corn will be GMO varieties, based on surveys of farmers conducted 
in March by the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA). Most of that 
grain will end up processed into livestock feeds for U.S. cattle, 
swine and poultry. That is one reason why grain officials believe the 
issue of grain segregation involves only a small percentage of crops 
grown in the U.S.

According to the USDA's Economic Research Service, demand for non-GMO 
soybeans, for example, accounts for only 2 percent of U.S. soybean 
production. "There is zero to nonexistent concern this year," 
American Soybean Association (ASA) technical issue director Kim Hill 
told the Soybean Digest, a U.S. soybean farmer magazine, this month 
in describing U.S. soybean farmer concern about sales. "Many of the 
elevators that tried to separate them last year say they regret that 
decision. It was a huge expenditure for nothing," Hill said.


The American Seed Trade Association Web site ( 
publishes contacts for hundreds of U.S. grain elevators that accept 
GMO grains, easing farmer concerns. The grain trade also faces other 
hurdles to segregating grain, as traditionally various high and low 
grades of any one grain are blended at elevators to achieve 
acceptable quality. Economics, however, is slowly changing those 

Demand from processors like snack-makers for speciality grain such as 
white corn has led to more contracting requiring strict segregation 
and identity preservation (IP) of grain. The same is true for high-
oil corn or tofu-destined soybeans. "We have in the past and expect 
to in the new crop year to pay premiums for identity preservation, 
assured non-GMO soybeans," said Jeff Fritz, director of corporate 
development at Central Soya, a large U.S. soybean processor.

If customers are willing to pay for the additional time it takes to 
grow, handle and process IP products, there are U.S. companies 
willing to meet those demands - passing along additional premiums to 
farmers, said Linda Thrane, a spokeswoman for Cargill Inc., the 
largest U.S. grain exporter.


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