Teagasc criticised over GM potato trial


TEAGASC HAS been criticised by campaigners against genetically modified (GM) crops for beginning its field trial of GM potatoes before a three-month judicial review period has elapsed. The agriculture and food development authority defended its actions and said it was doing everything in strict accordance with the licence granted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Teagasc planted the GM potatoes, which have improved resistance to late potato blight, at their facility at Oakpark, Co Carlow, last Monday. The trial will investigate whether there are long-term effects associated with growing the GM crop in carefully controlled conditions.

A separate licence allowed the plants to be grown in the contained environment of a glasshouse before being transplanted.

Earlier this summer the EPA granted Teagasc consent to carry out field trials, subject to eight conditions. In the announcement on July 26th, the EPA said “a three-month period during which a judicial review can be sought has now commenced”. The licence conditions did not prevent Teagasc planting the potatoes before the three-month period elapsed.

Stella Coffey, of the GM Moratorium campaign, said she had sent a letter to Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney on Wednesday “demanding that the GM potatoes not be planted out while citizens were in the process of a legal challenge to their licence”.

On Tuesday a group of environmentalists and organic producers were refused a High Court order allowing them to challenge the Teagasc trial legally without facing the possibility of having to pay “prohibitively expensive” costs if they lost their case. Group member Cllr Malcolm Noonan said they would read the court judgment before deciding their next course of action.

Environmental group no2gm, which took part in the challenge, had asked that Mr Coveney seek in writing an undertaking from Teagasc that no GM potatoes would be planted in Irish soil until the legal issue had been resolved.

Teagasc senior research officer Ewen Mullins said Teagasc had been working since July to meet the stringent licence conditions laid down by the EPA. “Once this was achieved, the EPA gave consent to Teagasc to proceed and as a result we were able to transplant the cisgenic [GM] potatoes out in to the 10m-by-10m plot on Monday,” he said.

Dr Mullins said 24 GM plants were planted, along with a similar number of non-GM control plants. “Although late in the season, the continuing risk of blight provides an opportunity to complete the initial research required for the project and to begin evaluating the blight response of the potato to Irish blight strains,” he added.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture said Teagasc operated as a separate semi-State body under the aegis of the department “and the Minister has no function with regard to the day-to-day operations of Teagasc”.

She said the department’s sole responsibility with regard to GM crop cultivation related to coexistence measures in the event that commercial GM crops were grown alongside conventional crops.