Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not just an issue for grain producers. Livestock producers are well advised to educate themselves on GMOs and their impact on animal agriculture of the future.

Knowledge of the issues surrounding GMOs is just the beginning, according to Dave Cieslak, Cargill Animal Nutrition, Minneapolis, MN.

Producers must understand animal agriculture’s role in feeding a growing world population. The population could grow from 6 billion people in 2000 to 9 billion by as early as 2020.

"Animal agriculture sits at an important crossroads in the food production system," Cieslak explains. Inputs into animal feed include grains, byproducts from crop processing and byproducts from animal production.

"A change in any of these is going to have an impact on food production and on the role we play in food production," Cieslak says.

Variations of crops with GMOs that will have an impact on animal production fall into four categories, including crops affecting energy, amino acids, vitamins and availability of minerals in animal feeds.

Within each of these GMOs lies the opportunity for producers to either decrease the cost of production, increase growth rate, improve efficiency or improve nutrient utilization, he says.

In order to capture value, producers and their advisors need to decide how to use these potential GMO opportunities.

"Timing about those decisions is everything," Cieslak says. "If you are deciding about this when it shows up at your door, it’s too late to make the right decision."

How to Prepare

Cieslak offers several suggestions on how producers and their advisors can prepare themselves.

  1. Become familiar with the technology and anticipate the way it may come to application for you.
  2. Engage with the organizations that are creating these changes. Learn the issues and challenges. Keep up-to-date with the rate of developments, and the potential timelines for product availability. Communicate to developers of these products the information needs for yourself and others who work in the animal production chain.
  3. Develop a deep insight into the end use of your "downstream" customer. How does the feed formula fit into the nutrient management plan? How is the product positioned in the mind of the retail customer? Is the product intended for a market with regulations or perceptions about the use of GMOs?
  4. Know your customers, learn their familiarity and understanding of biotechnology.
  5. Become familiar with the messages of groups that express concern or opposition to GMOs and be prepared to answer or direct questions to a qualified reference.

There are many questions surrounding GMOs and how they will influence animal agriculture. How performance of GMOs is measured, how information is handled, how added value is preserved are but a few of the unanswered questions.

"There is time to educate yourself on the issues and to think clearly about how you will face those issues," Cieslak says. "It will take an effort on the part of everyone in order to prepare themselves."