The move by Swedish Meats could be one of the first signs that a major shift in industry strategy towards GM foods. Europe's governments and food companies have been reluctant to accept GM foods and animals raised on GM feeds due to entrenched consumer fears on the continent about the safety of the biotechnology.
The European Commission has in the past approved GM feeds for use in the EU only to have member states oppose such measures. EU law allows the production and use of GM foods and ingredients as long as the amounts are clearly labelled on the product.
A recent report commissioned by Agricultural Biotechnology Europe (ABE) said the European Union's anti-GM stance would become unsustainable as it becomes ever harder and more expensive to ensure sourcing of non-GM ingredients.
A major problem is the declining global supply of non-GM ingredients in the key soybean and derivative sector, notably now Brazil has begun planting GM soybeans. GM soybeans accounted for 23 per cent of total production in Brazil in 2004
Swedish Meats, which has a 65 per cent slaughtering market share, announced that it will shift its policy toward GM feed starting January 2006. The farmers owned cooperative said the decision was precipitated by the escalating cost of sourcing non-GM soy products from Brazil. The cooperative predicts prices of non-GM soybean meal will double in 2006.
"The view in the food retail sector is that there has been a movement towards the acceptance among the public of GM feed to livestock, " Swedish Meats press officer Hampe Mobarg told AgraFood Biotech, a journal devoted to the sector.
The ban was originally implemented and maintained due to the Swedish food industry's reluctance to accept products of biotechnology and the perceived potential for negative consumer reaction.
Consumer acceptance of products of biotechnology has increased in Sweden, according to the US department of agriculture (USDA).
"This is supported by the fact that Swedish consumers continue to buy imported meat from countries that routinely incorporate GM feed in their rations," the USDA stated.
Swedish Meats is owned by 24,000 livestock farmers. Members raise cattle, sheep, and hogs. The cooperative runs 12 slaughtering plants. Through its subsidiary Scan Foods, it is also the market leader within cutting and processed meat production. The Group has 4,060 staff and sales of €879 million.
Scan Foods has a UK subsidiary.
According to AgraFood Biotech other Swedish meat producers are expected to follow suit in a move to cut costs as non-GM feed is becoming increasingly expensive. Kott och Charkforetagen, a major meat lobbying group, had already agreed to GM feed in principle but left it up to each individual producer to decide what to do.