SnowBall archive


GE -Report - GM crop segregation is feasible

(Despite the protestations of the biotechnology companies below are details
of an academic report which confirms that GM crop segregation is feasible.
We believe Allan Buckwell is/was an academic based at Wye College,
University of London.

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Growing skepticism of GM-derived foods is creating unease for
consumer and farmer alike. Consumers want to be assured about
the origins of their food, and farmers are questioning whether they
can bear the expense of providing that assurance. As the debate
between the biotech industry and the European consumer continues
to intensify, both facets of the marketplace, producer and
consumer, are given to asking themselves the same question - is an
equitable solution possible? According to one researcher at Wye
College in London, the answer is a qualified, yes.

Allan Buckwell, agricultural economist and author of a recently
published report, "Economics of Identity Preservation for
Genetically Modified Crops", concluded that Identity Preservation
(IP) offers a partial solution to the conflict between producers and
consumers, with benefits to both parties, as long as consumers are
willing to pay the added cost. The study analyzed the cost of
separating GM from non-GM crops from 'plow to plate', and
allowed Buckwell to formulate a number of important conclusions
on the feasibility of extending the IP technology to bioengineered
food and food products.

He reports that not only is IP possible, the practice of segregating
crops is already widespread in world trade markets due to the
producer-driven desire to separate higher added value crops from
other commodities. According to Buckwell, the extension of
established IP technology to GM foods could have benefits both to
consumers, many of whom demand the labeling of
GMO-containing food products, and to farmers, who seek to
maintain a healthy market for their crops. But is it feasible?

The bottom line is yes, but only if consumers see a clear benefit to
themselves. The increased cost of segregating GM products is
estimated to range between 5-15% of the usual farm gate price,
but only for products that provide enhanced benefit to the
consumer, such as a tastier tomato or an altered oil profile in
soybeans. However, Buckwell advised that "consumers are
unlikely to be prepared to absorb the extra costs for IP for
products which only bring benefits to the farmer" in lowered
pesticide and herbicide expenses, for instance. Consequently, as
GM varieties continue to show an increase in profitability (higher
yields, lower overhead), farmers may not continue growing
non-GM varieties unless there is a financial incentive for doing so.

The greatest disincentive for farmers to embrace IP technologies
would occur if processors, in response to perceived consumer
demands, insist on guaranteeing a 100% GM-free product. In that
case, according to Buckwell's analysis, IP could well increase the
cost of raw materials by 150%. The key to successful
implementation of IP may lie in the willingness of lawmakers to
allow certain tolerances of non-GM products, as is already the
policy for traditional commodity crops. Currently, the EU is
considering a 1% tolerance allowance for GM contamination in
food that would carry a GM-free label.

Despite the initial costs, identity preservation may afford the best
option for gaining consumer acceptance of GM food and, though
somewhat costly to implement in the short term, could eventually
cut costs for farmer and suppliers, according to Buckwell. He
asserts the cost of IP will decrease as the practice spreads and IP
operators achieve greater efficiency. In the meantime, the cost of
IP may be a necessary price we could all pay to ease the transition
into an increasingly biotech world.


This article was drawn from a Press Release issued by the Food
Biotech Communication Initiative (FBCI), "Unique study on
Segregation of GMOs and Non-GMOs shows 'Identity
Preservation' is feasible and already being applied but inevitably
involves extra costs". February 12, 1999.

Ruth Irwin
Information Systems for Biotechnology