Go-ahead for Teagasc GM trials criticised


THERE HAS been strong criticism of the decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to give Teagasc the go-ahead to carry out trials on a genetically modified (GM) potato designed to resist potato blight.

The Green Party, An Taisce and other organic farming and environmental groups have condemned the move, with the Green Party saying the decision would be seen “as a turning point for the worse in safeguarding future Irish food production”.

Teagasc said it was now evaluating the licence conditions and putting the necessary measures in place to ensure it met its obligations as required by the agency.

“Once this has been achieved to the satisfaction of the EPA, the work will commence at the Teagasc Crops Research Centre in Oak Park, Carlow.”

The agency’s consent is subject to eight conditions including management of the trials and reporting requirements.

Teagasc head of crops research John Spink said the field study would be isolated from the ongoing conventional potato-breeding programme. He stressed the project had no links to the biotechnology industry. The work is funded through the EU’s Framework 7 research programme. “So Teagasc are clear that their work is not about testing the commercial viability of GM potatoes.”

According to Teagasc, GM late blight-resistant potatoes have the potential to significantly reduce the fungicide load on the environment. But Teagasc researcher Dr Ewen Mullins added: “We need to investigate whether there are long-term impacts associated with this specific GM crop in carefully controlled conditions. We need to gauge how the late blight disease itself responds.”

Green Party environment spokesman Malcolm Noonan said that “overwhelming scientific evidence is showing that GM technology is of no real benefit to sustainable agriculture or food security”.

An Taisce said it was concerned that conducting GM field trials in an open air environment could result in the cross-pollination with non-GM potatoes. “In addition, research on GM crops on farmland biodiversity in the UK, which was carried out on more than 200 plots, have demonstrated worrying trends. Bees and butterflies were found to be 68 per cent fewer in the GM field.”

Chef Darina Allen said the agency’s decision was “to say the least, unfortunate” and the risks for Ireland’s food business were greater than any potential benefits. Huge investments had been made in building Ireland’s reputation as a green, clean, good-food island.

The Organic Trust urged Teagasc to scrap the trial. “Ireland cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hound when it comes to our reputation as a food exporter.”