European co-operative Arla Foods says it has delivered financial results and branded sales volumes at the top end of expectations, despite challenges posed by Covid-19.
It says the market is increasingly willing to pay a price premium and Arla is well placed to exploit this new opportunity.
Arla's move results from German retailers saying they will pay a premium for products from cows fed non-GM feed. The trend is seen as likely to spread to other markets and Arla wants to move now to add value to its farmers' milk.
Chairman Åke Hantoft says Arla is well prepared to meet the growing demand for GM-free feed.
"We own the biggest organic milk pool in the world, for which the feed is by default GM-free. Our Swedish farmers have always used GM-free feed. This means about 20% of Arla's milk pool already meets this market demand.
"There is commercial potential here for us to capture and build on immediately by attracting more farmers willing to convert to GM-free feed," says Hantoft.
He underlines that the decision is based on the commercial opportunity and does not indicate that Arla's owners are taking a new stand on GM.
"We welcome innovative solutions and new technology which can improve farming and help feed the world's population in a sustainable manner. We are not closing a door on GM and we will continue to monitor the scientific research into the pros and cons of GM."
Converting to GM-free feed will be a cost for the farmers, but the price premium is prompting Arla to plan to compensate farmers as they convert. This model driven by market demand is also used for organic milk, for which farmers are already paid for the extra feed cost.
"Our immediate demand is up to 1 billion kg extra milk during the next 12 months and we expect to be able to pay an extra 1 eurocent/kg milk. The market driven compensation will also be paid to all our Swedish farmers, who already use GM-free feed. We do not know exactly from when, but we are working fast to unfold the details," says chief executive Peder Tuborgh.