GM potato trials face legal challenge

Wed, Aug 29, 2012, 01:00

THE FIRST steps were taken yesterday in a legal challenge to a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to allow genetically modified (GM) potato trials in Co Carlow.

A group of environmentalists and organic producers sought, but were refused, a High Court order allowing them to legally challenge the Teagasc trial without facing the possibility of having to pay “prohibitively expensive” costs if they lost their case.

The application was made by Co Kildare farmer Percy Podger on behalf of a group that included Green Party councillors Malcolm Noonan and Danny Forde and eight other organic producers and environmentalists.

Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said he had no jurisdiction to make such an order but allowed the group leave to give short notice to the EPA or Teagasc of their intention to challenge the costs issue.

The group is opposed to a decision of the EPA to allow Teagasc to carry out trials on a GM potato designed to resist late blight.

Mr Podger claimed that under article 9 of the Aarhus Convention on environmental matters the challengers were entitled to what was known as a “non-prohibitively expensive order” from the court.

The convention was ratified in June, and article 9 requires that people have the ability to challenge critical environmental decisions without facing the threat of large legal costs. The court heard the convention would, in advance of any challenge, protect the applicants from losing their homes or assets in the event of not succeeding in their challenge.

The judge said it was a matter for the applicants who appeared in court yesterday to decide if they would pursue the matter and who they wished to put on notice of their intentions. Mr Podger told the court that by putting third parties on notice the applicants were assuming a risk of costs.

In July the EPA gave Teagasc the go-ahead to carry out the trials. Teagasc said the trials would investigate whether there were long-term impacts associated with the specific GM crop in carefully controlled conditions.

The consent was subject to eight conditions, including management of the trials and reporting requirements.

There is a three-month judicial review period but Teagasc may proceed with the trials during that period, once it has met the conditions laid down by the EPA.

Mr Noonan said the group would study the judgment before deciding on a course of action.