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No Harm in Feeding Livestock GM Feed, Science Review Finds

01 October 2014

GLOBAL – It is safe to feed genetically engineered crops to livestock, according to a research review assessing the performance of over 100 billion animals.

Data on animal health, performance and the nutritional profile of resulting food products of animals fed genetically engineered crops show no detrimental effects. The data set ran from 1983 - before GM crops - to 2011.

The study, considered the most comprehensive ever in GE crops and livestock, found improved feed-to-gain ratios and decreased age to market. 

This was from US field data including 9 billion broilers annually. 

Such an observation, “suggests that feeding GM crops did not have any detrimental effects to the birds’ health,” researcher Dr Alison Van Eenennaam told the US Grains Council.

Furthermore, no rise in tumours, decreased rates of post-mortem condemnation and improved feed to gain ratio showed animals in the study were not showing ‘unfavourable or perturbed trends’, she said while reviewing field data.

She called on more consistent regulatory approvals of GE crops, explaining that ‘asynchronous’ adoption of newly developed crops is an “increasing problem” hampering trade.

Dr Van Eenennaam described “asynchronous regulatory approval” as, “considerable discrepancies in the amount of time required to review and approve new GE crops in different countries.”

She added: “This leads to a situation where GE crops may be cultivated and marketed in some countries and remain unapproved in others.”

In addition to being safe, the study review, conducted at the University of California, Davis, highlighted the benefits of genetically engineered (GE) crops in assisting food production and minimising the environmental impact of agriculture.

The study, which appeared in the Journal of Animal Science, described these efficiencies as ‘improved agronomic practices’ e.g. reduced pesticide applications.

On a national level, the paper said this resulted in major environmental, economic and food safety benefits which have propelled GE crops to being, “the fastest adopted crop technology in recent history.”

Since their introduction in 1996, GE plantings, as of 2013, accounted for 90 per cent of the cotton and corn acres in the US, with a greater proportion of soy and sugar beet being GE.

Currently, animal agriculture consumes 70-90 per cent of GE crops and of the world’s 9 billion animals, 95 per cent consume GE food, the report added.

The report added that GE crops had been shown to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of taking 11.8 million cars off the road in 2012 alone.

This is through reduced pesticide spraying, down 8.7 per cent because of GE crops, and the subsequent fuel saved, alongside carbon sequestration and reduced tillage.

In its conclusion, the paper said scientific literature revealed, “No unexpected perturbations or disturbing trends in animal performance of health indicators.”

Furthermore, it was not possible to see differences in nutritional profiles after consumption of GE feed, the report added.

Looking ahead, the paper warned: “There is a pressing need for international harmonization for both regulatory frameworks for GE crops and governance of advanced breeding techniques to prevent widespread disruptions in international trade of livestock feedstuffs.”

More sophisticated crop engineering, which looked at output traits, such as improving rate of energy conversion would form the ‘second generation’ of crops.

This will ‘further complicate' the sourcing of GE feed.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms


Top image via Shutterstock

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