GM technologies are an important tool, Oireachtas hears

Joint committee told genetically modified food is necessary to help feed the world

A farmer at work in the US. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture has heard that genetically modified (GM) technologies, such as those used in the US,  are  an important tool to help feed the world. File photograph: Getty Images

A farmer at work in the US. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture has heard that genetically modified (GM) technologies, such as those used in the US, are an important tool to help feed the world. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Genetically modified (GM) technologies are not a panacea for all of our ills, but they are certainly an important tool to help feed the world, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture has heard.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s senior biotechnologist Dr Thomas McLoughlin said independent research published in 2010 had found that “GM technologies per se were no more dangerous than conventional crop breeding”.

Asked if GM technology was essential to feed the world, he replied: “Certainly we need every tool in the tool box . . . Can we actually manage without this technology? If you look at what happened in the Ebola virus, how did they treat it? By using GM technology.”

The committee had called a number of experts to discuss an EU proposal which would allow individual member states to decide if they wish to permit or ban the import of genetically modified food and feed in their territory.

Dermot Ryan, deputy chief inspector at the Department of Agriculture, noted that 18 million farmers in 28 countries had planted more than 181 million hectares of GM crops in 2014.

“Cultivation is concentrated in five countries, with 90 per cent planted in the US, Brazil, Argentina, India and Canada, ” Mr Ryan said.

Up to 90 per cent of soya bean and maize products imported from Argentina, Brazil and the US are derived from GM crops.

State’s dependency

The committee also heard that the State was particularly dependent on feed imports relative to other EU member states, especially in the pig and poultry sectors, as soya bean was an essential ingredient in the formulation of rations.

Several committee members expressed concerns about the use of GM technology to produce food.

Fianna Fáil senator Brian Ó Dómhnaill said GM technology was “financially very lucrative and that does worry me”.

He said he was concerned that global companies were “positioning themselves on the world stage to be larger than countries by obtaining the possibility of feeding nations through genetically modified feedstuffs or food . . . and that scares me a little bit”.

Sinn Féin deputy Martin Ferris said he had many concerns about the use of GM technologies and he was worried about vulnerable economies being exploited by global companies promoting GM technology.

Fine Gael TD and tillage farmer Tom Barry said he had “severe reservations” about the use of GM technology and warned against “a headlong rush” to adopt the technology.

“I don’t see GM making the tillage farmer any better off at the present. Quite the opposite . . . the world has produced three of the largest harvests ever and we are going out of business. The price of grain today is lower than it was 25 years ago.”

However, Fine Gael senator Pat O’Neill asked if restrictions on using GM seed were putting farmers here at a unfair disadvantage compared with farmers in countries that had adopted the technology and were producing crops at a cheaper rate as a result.