The death of 'good food'? Protest over GM potato field study


A MOCK funeral procession to mark “the death of Ireland’s good food sector” was held in Dublin yesterday by people opposed to the Teagasc field study on genetically modified (GM) potatoes.

Up to 100 people took part in the march from St Stephen’s Green to the Department of Agriculture to highlight their opposition to the trial in Oak Park, Co Carlow. It is studying the environmental impact of GM potatoes, which have improved resistance to late potato blight.

The protesting group included organic farmers, environmentalists, urban gardeners and former minister of state Ciarán Cuffe of the Green Party.

The group carried a black coffin, which protest organiser Stella Coffey said was a symbol of the death of Ireland’s good food sector.

Last month, she sought but was refused a High Court order allowing her to legally challenge the Teagasc trial without facing large costs if she lost the case. Her application was followed by another from a group of environmentalists and organic producers but theirs was also refused.

Ms Coffey said the protesters were demanding that Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney order Teagasc to dig up the GM potatoes and put them in the glasshouse until all legal challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency decision had expired. The three-month judicial review period ends late next month.

Ms Coffey said nobody but a multimillionaire could afford to take a legal challenge against the EPA decision to give its consent to the GM study.

“Dig up the spuds,” the crowd shouted outside the Department of Agriculture. They carried placards reading “Hey, Teagasc, leave our spuds alone”, and “Nobody wants GM potatoes”.

Ms Coffey said there was a contradiction in one State agency, Bord Bia, promoting its Origin Green scheme for sustainable food production while another, Teagasc, planted GM potatoes, “and we have the Department of Agriculture sitting on its hands, saying ‘this is nothing to do with me’”.

Teagasc has defended its study and said it was neither for nor against GM technology. It said it was doing its job as a scientific and research-based organisation by engaging in diverse research of the potential options available to farmers.

Mr Coveney said the trial was happening under tight supervision and strict conditions. “And if Teagasc can show that they will have no impact on neighbouring crops I think we shouldn’t be entirely closed . . . to the appliance of science and innovation on a very limited scale, as is the case here.”