Green light for GM potatoes test


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given the go-ahead for a genetically modified blight-resistant potato crop to be tested on lands in Co Carlow.

Two hectares will be planted over the next four years to assess how the GM potatoes cope with less fungicidal spray than conventional varieties.

The agency said scientists will continue to monitor the land, run by Teagasc, at Oak Park in the county, for four years after the trial.

Opponents of GM now have a three month window to lodge a judicial review of the licence.

“The trials will be subject to strict conditions with regular monitoring and reporting to the EPA. The trial sites will also be checked for compliance with the licence conditions on a regular basis by the EPA,” the agency said.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland, the Department of Agriculture and the National Advisory Committee on Genetically Modified Organisms and 83 representations from interested parties were consulted before the consent was granted.

Food development agency Teagasc must submit reports on the study to the EPA every two months and at the end of each year.

GM blight-resistant potato crops have been tested in three locations in the Netherlands with no unforeseen effects on biodiversity compared to conventional crops. Tests are also being carried out in Belgium and the UK.

The EPA said the potato blight study will assess the impact of GM potato cultivation on bacterial, fungal and worm diversity in the soil. It will also identify integrated pest management strategies and components which could be positively or negatively affected by the adoption of GM late blight resistant potato.

The EPA also hopes to use the results of the study to engage and discuss the issues that most concern farmers, the public, grocers and scientists over the cultivation of GM crops in Ireland.

There are eight conditions on the consent including restrictions on the duration, location and area of the trials, strict reporting requirements and the detection method for the identification of the GM potatoes.

The EPA said late blight is a very common disease in potatoes grown in Ireland and some scientists consider it to be the most dangerous potato disease in the world because of how rapidly it can spread when conditions are warm and moist. It normally appears as dark blotches on leaf tips and plant stems followed by white mould on leaves. The potato itself turns grey or dark on the outside, red or brown inside and as the outside appears to shrink the vegetable turns into a foul smelling mush.

More aggressive blight strains have emerged in recent years where a fungus produces a type of spore which can over-winter in the soil and then hit crops early in the following year. As a result, growers are increasingly forced to substantially increase the amount of chemicals used to control the disease.

Teagasc puts annual losses due to this fungus at €15 million a year.