Ireland 'could lose out' by rejecting GM

Thu, Jul 19, 2012, 01:00

IRELAND COULD lose out if it rejects genetic modification technology. It could cause damage economically and to our reputation for research, the senior adviser on biotechnology to US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has said.

Jack Bobo delivered a talk at University College Dublin yesterday looking at the differences between the US and the European experience with genetically modified (GM) crops.

“Ireland is at the forefront of everything that is going to happen,” he said, speaking after the talk. Ireland already depended on imported GM animal feeds, and many food products coming into the country contained GM ingredients, particularly maize.

“Ireland has the most to lose if it rejects this technology,” he said. It would have to pay much more for non-GM animal feeds, something that would increase costs to farming and therefore to the economy. Food producers also depend on imported GM soya beans for protein.

Dismissing a technology that was highly regulated and based on solid science could also impact on our research reputation abroad. “Ireland is seen as a country that is an innovator,” he said. Rejecting GM could undermine that.

Agricultural advisory and research body Teagasc recently applied to the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct field trials of GM potatoes and awaits confirmation that these may go ahead. It was important to conduct these trials, said Mr Bobo. “It is an important crop but it is also important to maintain Ireland’s reputation as an innovator. It is basic research and it is important to do basic research.”

Earlier he talked about population growth and the increasing difficulty in producing enough food to feed the global population, which he said was expected to reach 11 billion by 2050. Such growth would add 75 million a year to the population – like adding an extra Germany every year from now.

“How are we going to feed these people and feed the billion people who are not getting enough today?” he asked.

Farming was environmentally one of the most damaging activities, with farming accounting for a large share of greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

About 40 per cent of the Earth’s surface was given over to agriculture but it was now time to stop adding more, he said.

The goal must be to discover ways to get more food from the land already in use, without having to scale up inputs such as water, nutrients and energy, he added.

“Science is not the enemy here,” he said. He suggested that “sustainable intensification” was needed to boost yields, and biotechnology could help in this goal. “Biotechnology is not the only answer, it is just one of many technologies that can be used to develop agriculture and food production.”

Mr Bobo was introduced by UCD’s Prof James Burke, professor of crop science. “Humans have always guided the evolution of crops” and only a small number of crops had been developed, he said. “Many of the crops we have today never existed [in their present form] at all” and were the result of intensive breeding.