Jan Eksvärd is a senior expert in sustainable development at the Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF).
“Arla and the other dairies are paying Swedish farmers a little more because they are using GM-free feed,” he said. “But for many consumers, it’s simply one of the reasons why Swedish products are considered to be better. It’s the same as with animal welfare: Swedish standards in general may be higher, but you can’t label the product on that basis.”
One of the issues for Swedish dairy farmers is that, although they pay a premium for their GM-free feed, the uniform expectation that GM soy will not be used means this does not translate as a higher margin on their milk.
In 2014, FeedNavigator reported that the country’s dairy sector was considering moving away from non-GM soy.
Eksvärd explained: “The decision to continue with non-GM soy has been taken every year since 1996. In 2014, the extra cost paid for non-GM was higher than before. But so long as compensation stays in line with the additional cost, there is not too much discontent.”
Arla, which controls some 70% of the market, and the other dairy companies have an equally difficult choice to make. “The question for them is whether the [cost of the] compensation is acceptable compared with the risk of losing market share for their milk products,” he said.
No GM labelling
According to the LRF, there is no ‘GM-free’ labelling system in Sweden. Both certified organic and Swedish-origin products under the ‘Svenskt Sigill’ mark claim not to use GM components in animal feed.
The cost of certification under these schemes takes in a number of criteria, and can usually generate higher margins. But the cost of a certification system looking specifically at the GM-free status of feed would be too expensive, the LRF suggested, especially since higher margins would not be available.
Eksvärd explained: “It is not possible to verify by product analysis whether animals have been given GM feed or not.” So any such certification would need to be based on detailed documentary evidence.
No such problems exist for the feed itself, which is imported principally from Brazil. The GM status of the feed can be tested, since analytical profiles exist for every GM organism on the market.
“The Swedish feed industry, feed vendors, food producers and grocery chains have agreed to only use certified soy,” he said. “That is [soy certified using] either Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) or ProTerra’s Cert ID scheme.”
According to the LRF, up to 20% of Brazilian soy acreage is GM-free, but there have been years where demand has been higher or supply lower.
“There’s been a price premium, and at times that premium has been high,” Eksvärd admitted.
“It’s a question of the market and what is considered to be of value to consumers,” he said. “ICA, Lidl and the other retailers don’t dare to go against that.”