Public acceptance of biotechnology has slowly improved among Europeans since the 1990s. Although several countries still oppose biotech crops, the European Union (EU) is a major livestock producer and faces a shortage of homegrown feed protein. Because of this, European farmers are expected to remain dependent upon biotech soy imports produced in the United States, Brazil and Argentina. To pave the way for more acceptance, U.S. and South American farmers have visited agricultural leaders several times in Europe to promote biotechnology and its benefits. United Soybean Board (USB) director and South Dakota soybean farmer Bob Metz is one of them.
Q: What is the outlook for global biotech soy demand?
A: Farmers in the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay grow 90 percent of the world’s exported soybeans and embrace biotechnology as the future of farming to feed the rest of the world. China and Southeast Asia, the largest importers of biotech soybeans, have adopted biotechnology. Europeans produce less than five percent of their own protein needs so hopefully they will as well.
Q: What are the benefits of biotech soy?
A: The meat and poultry farmers in Europe understand the benefits of biotechnology, so a majority of animal feed in the EU is from imported biotech products. Ninety percent of soybeans produced in the world are biotech, and with a devastating U.S. drought this year, biotech soybeans withstood extreme conditions and still performed well.
Q: Can U.S. farmers meet the EU’s demands for non-biotech soybeans?
A: We could grow identity preserved (IP) soybeans, but they’ll cost the customer more. Without chemicals to eliminate weeds and enhance crop growth, the fields require more manual labor. Cleaning the auger and combine, so IP seeds don’t mix with biotech seeds, requires extra time and effort. Farmers are business people and producing biotech crops contributes to higher yields and increased profit.
Q: What problems do EU farmers face because of biotech regulations?
A: Romania used to export soybeans, but once it joined the EU, it was no longer allowed to cultivate biotech seeds and lost its competitive edge. Romania is now a soybean importer because of the EU’s stringent guidelines on biotech crops. I’ve talked to EU farmers who would love to embrace biotechnology because they’re having a tough time competing, with their non-biotech crops. When farmers don’t use biotechnology, it’s like a business person working without a laptop and cell phone.
Q: What is the EU’s attitude toward biotech crops?
A: European consumers prefer non-biotech foods, but if you ask if they’re willing to pay a significant premium, the interest in non-biotech foods reduces substantially. As a farmer who grows it and a consumer who buys it, I believe it’s generally more cost effective to purchase biotech foods in the grocery store. The EU’s attitude in the past has been, if you can’t deliver what we need, we’ll get it from South America. But now, the United States and South American soy-exporting countries agree that biotechnology is the future. The EU can demand what it wants but will have to pay a hefty price.