Euro GM reluctance could hit beer innovation

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union, Genetically modified food

As the EU debates retaining national bans on genetically modified
(GM) crops, one industry expert believes that failure to adapt
could grant foreign rivals using the technology an upper hand, not
least in terms of brewing a good beer.

Dr Val Giddings, a leading independent US GM consultant, told BeverageDaily.com that the current use of biotech crops in global beer making was miniscule, mainly in the addition of rice. He was keen to add though, that in his opinion, there could be no doubt that GM crop use in beer - even if still some way from practical application - is set to increase in the coming years. One key issue expected to affect brewers in the coming year is the increasing costs of raw materials needed in making a variety of ales and lagers. According to figures supplied by the UK-based cereal board HGCA, in England alone, the average price for brewers grain was up to £31 per tonne this month from £28 per tonne in January 2007. Many experts say that this trend is likely to continue over the coming year. While potentially helping to offset these cost, Giddings says that there could be numerous ways that GM crops could improve brewing, regardless of the current commodity price spikes. "Several [research] teams are exploring the use of recombinantDNAtechnologies to improve barley both for commodity production and specialty uses, but these are not to my knowledge close to commercialisation,"​ he said. "There is potential to use biotechnology to address several issues with the production of hops and their qualities of interest for beer making, but I am not aware of any current research being pursued in the public domain."​ Not everyone is in favour of extending GM use in the bloc though. Some European member states like Austria continue to resist adopting any GM crops, even for products approved by the European Commission like in the case of Monsanto's MON810 maize. The European Commission has been debating whether to force the country to lift its restrictions since 2005, as Austria has never produced the necessary scientific evidence to argue that GM crops do carry health risks. In November 2005, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ordered Austria's ban be lifted following a case brought by leading GMO producers Argentina, Canada and the US under claims that their farmers were losing millions of euros annually because of the EU. Austria's stance on the ban is supported by environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, which have expressed concern at the unknown long-term affects of GM on consumer health. However, Giddings claims that should Brussels fail to apply experience and official data in reviewing GM crop use, then brewers within the bloc, along with European agriculture as a whole, will fail to reap any potential benefits from their use. The EU after all already has a beer made partly from GM crops on the market place. Sweden-based brewer Tva Bryggare has already been producing a specially labelled GM beer in the bloc since 2004. Company master brewer Kenth Persson told BeverageDaily.com that the group had launched the Kenth beer brand, which uses GM maize in its formulation, back in 2004 in a bid to spice up the beer market and its own portfolio. Persson said that the decision to use the biotech maize was an issue of quality, with the GM variety of the crop noticeably cleaner and free from pest intrusion than the non-GM kind. Despite a more GM-sceptic market in Europe over ingredient use, Persson said that the only backlash the company received so far form launching the product had been from environmental organisations such as Greenpeace. While he said that consumers had reacted positively to the beer in markets like Italy and trade shows within Germany and the UK, Persson added that the brewer remained small and pushing GM beer would be difficult. In considering any further expansion therefore he said that individual brewerys in each country would need to found to produce the beer. However, some in the industry believe there may be some way to go before GM beer can enjoy strong mainstream success and encourager producers to consider using the modified crops in their formulations. Rodolphe de Looz-Corswarem, secretary general of the Brewers of Europe, believes that there is currently little, if any, interest from consumers in using GM crops. He added that on a similar note, there were no benefits for brewers to turn to using genetically modified crops in their products, suggesting that even an improved crop output would not drastically reduce commodity costs. "For European beer makers innovation remains very important, and they are already innovative in terms of product launches and variety,"​ said de Looz-Corswarem. "For the time being people from around the world come toEuropeto happily enjoy a range of natural beers."

Related topics: Markets, Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cider

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