Danube Soya works to create GMO-Free Europe

By Ken Roseboro
Published: February 26, 2015
Category: Non-GMO Market News

Non-gmo soybeans growing in Europe

Non-GMO soybeans growing in Austria

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Initiative aims to boost EU’s non-GMO soy production to reduce GMO imports, connect Eastern European farmers with Western European consumers

A new initiative is increasing non-GMO soy production in Europe to reduce GMO imports and to help Europe’s farmers earn a better living. Danube Soya aims to create a GMO-free soy producing region in countries along the Danube River.

Return soybeans to European fields

Europe is known for its strong anti-GMO stand, but the continent still imports 12 million metric tons of genetically modified soy each year from North and South America for use as animal feed.

Danube Soya aims to make Europe more self-sufficient in soy production, according to the group’s managing director Matthias Krön.

“Our goal is to increase non-GMO soy production to develop more (animal) protein,” Krön says. “It won’t replace imports but we want to balance that a little.”

Flowing across 1,785 miles, the Danube is Europe’s second-longest river, passing through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine.

The Danube region is also an excellent area for growing soybeans. In fact, it was the first region in the Western hemisphere, before North or South America, to grow soybeans after they were brought from Asia in the late 1800s.

However, Europe’s soybean production declined after World War II, and the 1992 Blair House agreement with the United States restricted soy production further, making Europe dependent on soy imports.

Danube Soy wants to change that. “We are advocating the return of soybeans to European fields under non-GMO growing conditions,” Krön says.

Bill Thompson, managing director of Genetic ID Europe, says food retailers support Danube Soya. “Top German retailers want to become independent of soy and soy meal imports from the United States, Brazil, China, and Argentina and to have a reliable European-based supply to meet the demands of the EU market,” he says.

Successful program, helping farmers

They are succeeding. Since its launch in 2012, Danube Soya has grown from 20 members to more than 170 in 16 countries. Members represent many areas of the food production chain, including farmers, soybean processors, soyfood, ingredient, and feed manufacturers, non-governmental organizations, food retailers, and GMO testing labs, among others.

Non-GMO soybean plantings in the Danube region increased 19 percent from 597,000 hectares (1,475,187 acres) in 2013 to 700,000 hectares (1,729,700 acres) in 2014. Much more is planned.

“We want to double that in the next few years and hope to produce 5 million tons of soy by 2020,” Krön says.

Another goal of the project is to connect poorer farmers in Eastern European countries, such as Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, and Serbia, to more affluent consumers in Western Europe who want non-GMO soy. Farmers will grow soy that will be processed into animal feed or soyfood products that will be sold in Western Europe.

“We want to support Eastern European farmers so they earn better incomes,” Krön says.

Non-GMO certification system, sustainability requirements

Danube Soya is developing a non-GMO food labeling certification program based on similar programs—Austria’s “Gentechnikfrei” (GMO- Free) and Germany’s “Ohne Genetechnik” (No Genetic Engineering). In addition to its non-GMO requirement, the program will include sustainability criteria including restrictions on pesticides, and requirements that soy be grown only on traditional agriculture land; no new lands can be converted to agriculture. Soy also can’t be grown in monocultures; it must be part of diverse crop rotations.

Growing more soy will benefit Europe’s agriculture soils, which primarily produce corn, wheat, other grains, and sunflowers.

“By growing soy we are improving the farming system,” Krön says. “It will be good to grow legumes to increase nitrogen in the soil.”

Krön believes the Danube Soya logo, which is appearing on food products, will be viewed favorably by European consumers.

“Danube is a nice brand that consumers can connect to; they have a nice image of the Danube,” he says.

Part of GMO-Free Europe

Danube Soya is another initiative to keep Europe GMO-free. There are about 60 GMO-free regions in Europe including Italy’s Tuscany, France’s Brittany, Germany’s Bavaria, and Upper Austria, among others. With the recent ruling by the European Parliament to allow member states to ban GM crops, there are likely to be more GMO-free initiatives by EU regions and nations. Government officials in Germany and Hungary recently said they want to ban GM crops in their nations. In line with this, Danube Soya is working with the European GMO-free Regions Network to organize a “GMO-Free Europe” conference this May in Berlin.

As Krön says: “We want to keep Central Europe GM-free.”

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