Waitrose sourcing GM free soy from Europe for pork products

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

'The move to source European soy will immediately account for 25% of the soy in our pork supply chain, and this proportion will increase over time.' © istock/simazoran
'The move to source European soy will immediately account for 25% of the soy in our pork supply chain, and this proportion will increase over time.' © istock/simazoran

Related tags Gm free soy Meat

Waitrose has become the first UK retailer to source GM free soy grown in the Danube region of Europe for use in pork production. 

It bought in its first shipment of the non-GM soy in October. Waitrose said the Danube soy is being used as a source of protein in pig feed by its dedicated pork supplier, Dalehead Foods. 

A spokesperson for the UK retailer told us: “The move to source European soy will immediately account for 25% of the soy in our pork supply chain, and this proportion will increase over time.” 

She said Waitrose’s own label eggs, chicken, turkey, New Zealand lamb, including frozen in own-brand ready meals, and farmed fish are fed diets that do not contain protein from genetically modified sources. 

“We have also removed all soy from the diets of our conventional milk supply chain and have plans in place to do the same in our lamb and beef supply chains,”​ she added.

Andrew Saunders, director of agriculture at Dalehead Foods, said while a number of Waitrose supply chains have carried out trials on the use of European soy, it is the first supplier to start using such a feed source.

Waitrose said the soy shipment from the Danube region marks the start of its plans to replace responsibly sourced soybeans from non-deforested land in Brazil, saying such sourcing would lower the risk to its supply chain with demand for soy from South America from the developing world increasing.

The UK retailer said the move underscored its goal of buying livestock feed raw materials closer to home. And it said suppliers in its ruminant supply chain are using clovers and other forage proteins to replace imported soy, while some producers in its pig and poultry supply chain are testing soy alternatives such as faba beans.

Meanwhile, the Danube Soya Association, an Austria headquartered organization that promotes GM-free soy cultivation in the EU and a migration away from reliance on third country protein imports, welcomed Waitrose's initiative, saying it had worked closely with the retailer and Dalehead Foods on the sourcing arrangement. 

Danube soy in more and more eggs

Last month, the association said an increasing number of European retailers are selling eggs from layers fed GM free soy from the Danube.

“The diet of layers is easier to modify in terms of feed ratio, and they are not as sensitive as broilers, given their growth demands, to any dietary change. So we are seeing full fat soy beans and soy cake from Danube Soya farmers being used in layer rations in Austria, Germany, Serbia and Switzerland,”​ Ursula Bittner, manager, the Danube Soya Association, told this publication in October.

She said one of the biggest retailers in Serbia, Mercator, is now selling eggs from layers fed Danube Soy. Labelled under the brand name PL Kplus, the eggs are on the shelves in 300 of the retailer’s outlets in that country

Since November 2013, 80% of all laying hen production in Austria has switched to Danube Soya certified meal. “More recently, Austria has seen additional brands, such as Toni’s Freilandeier, convert to eggs from birds fed the GM free soy,”​ added Bittner.

The layer market in Austria is currently using around 45,000 to 50,000 tons of Danube Soya meal per year, she said.

And, in Germany, eggs of the brand, Mein Bayern, are now Danube Soya labelled, said Bittner.

Naturafarm in Switzerland, which supplies the retailer Coop with eggs, has also been feeding its hens Danube Soya, while its poultry production was converted to that meal nearly two years ago. Micarna, a group supplying poultry to another Swiss retailer, Migros, has also modified their production to include the GM free soymeal in rations.

Some pork producers, such as Austria’s Hütthaler have committed to feeding a percentage of their animals with the GM free soy meal: “It is challenging for pork farmers to make the switch but Hütthaler is focused on high quality meat production and animal welfare standards, with delayed slaughter time and flexibility in its feed ratio, and a price that reflects that approach,”​ said Bittner. 

Soy production in Europe – the figures

The Danube Soya Association forecast, in June, that the soy area in the Danube region will grow 1.8% to 1.9 million hectares in 2016; out­put is likely to be close to 4.4 million MT, up 17.1% versus a year earlier. And it said soy volume certified to the Danube Soy GM free standard is expected to total 130,000 MT this year, up 57% compared to 2015.

It also reported that soy production in Europe grew by 6.3% to 8m MT in 2015 versus a year earlier.

The additional output was due to the larger planted area (+21.4%) mainly driven by favorable market conditions for soy and new CAP subsidies. But the expansion in hectares last year was partly offset by lower yields caused by extensive droughts in the region, said the organization. 

Higher feed costs

NFU Scotland said that a move to GM-free feed for pigs would result in a £20 ($24.83) per ton jump in the cost of feed, increasing costs for the farmer to £7 per finished pig, according to a report​.

The NFUS estimated a shift to GM-free diets in poultry would increase costs by 2p per kg on chicken or 4p per dozen for eggs and it said, without a hike in returns, producers sourcing non-GM rations would quickly become uncompetitive compared to those using imported GM soy.

Yields hike

Marinus van Krimpen from Wageningen University, at a workshop organized by FEFAC on alternative feed proteins in October 2015, said, in terms of environmental impact, nutritional value, and the potential for development on a large scale, the most promising source of protein to reduce EU dependency remains EU produced soy, on the condition that yields can increase from 3 tons per hectare to 5 t/ha. 

That workshop concluded, though, that soy from South American producers would continue to be the dominant source of protein supply for European livestock needs for some years to come.

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