Genetically Modified Animal Feed

Monsanto and the Biotech Industry

Genetically modified animal feeds represent the single largest market for the Biotech Industry, since up to 50% of the world 70 million acre GM crop is sold for this purpose. Not surprisingly, therefore, it is an area of extreme sensitivity to GE companies.

After discussions with MAFF officials it is apparent that it is also an extremely sensitive subject for the Government, since so much has now happened in terms of widespread deployment of GM animal feeds in this country without regulation or permission, prior governmental study, agricultural industry knowledge and consent, let alone public acceptance of such practice. Indeed, in 1995/6 The Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) attempted to ban GM maize for animal feed in its unprocessed form, but Britain was outvoted in the European Union. There is no labeling and no system of enforcement of standards of treatment of material before it is fed to animals.

The (preliminary) University of Leeds study, above (the only known study) only begins to tackle the GM animal feeds issue, looking at the necessary treatment to fragment the modified DNA within the material. Onerous treatment of heating to 95°C for at least 5 minutes was required in the small scale tests to completely fragment DNA. There is no present control mechanism or requirement to carry out such processes, nor are there any published plans for this.

It is against this background that Monsanto has withdrawn from a public debate on the issue. After agreeing to participate in a high profile debate at the Oxford Union on the GMO issue (held on 14 June 1999), Monsanto withdrew when it was decided that the specific topic was to be the "safety of GM animal feed", with a motion supported by Dr Arpad Pusztai, Monsanto press official, Dr Harry Swann, told Ray Foulk of the sponsoring organisation, The Millennium Environment Debate: "If we were to lose a debate on GM animal feed at the Oxford Union, and this were to be reported back in the US and be seen by our customers there it could be very damaging". He then negotiated a revised debating motion on the subject of "GM material entering the food chain" within which animal feed could be debated, but those words must not appear in the motion. Later, Dr Swann was overruled by his superior, Steve Windridge, who insisted that Monsanto withdrew from the debate altogether.

HM Government position

Food Safety Minister, Jeff Rooker has declined to join the debate and MAFF would not put up a speaker. Aide to the minister, Adam Butcher, told the Millennium Debate that it was "too tricky" for the government to take part.

Full consideration had been given to the invitation. A MAFF official informed the Millennium Debate that the invitation received "neutral" advice from officials in the ministry, and that it was being sent on to the Cabinet Office for advice. In spite of Jack Cunningham’s call for more public debate on the GMO issue (House of Commons, Friday 21 May) the invitation to MAFF to participate was declined four days later. From the many conversations with MAFF, it was quite clearly Jack Cunningham’s own department that blocked participation by MAFF in the debate.

Jeff Rooker’s record on the animal feed issue includes his evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology on 26 April 1999, when he gave the clear indication that research into GM animal feed had been undertaken. He was asked if the Government felt that it has a role in counteracting media stories of "doubtful foundation" like the one in that day’s Daily Mail about meningitis being caused by GM animal feed. Mr Rooker gave a robust response, and went on to state that:
"....There is not a shred of evidence that the feed to animals crosses over into meat, milk or eggs, depending on the animal and we know that because we looked for it, because we have research projects in order to go down that particular road." (Select Committee on Science and Technology, Minutes of Evidence, 26 April 1999, Hansard Q770-771).

The identification of this research was not questioned by the committee. In fact, as confirmed by MAFF official, no such research has been ever been completed.

Bournemouth '99