The justice and human rights group Action from Ireland (Afri) held a protest action at the Department of the Environment on Easter Monday to express its opposition to the proposed introduction of genetically modified (GM) potatoes into Ireland. Protesters wearing potato masks, and carrying a banner with the slogan “hands off our genes”, called on the Environmental Protection Agency to reject Teagasc’s recent application to introduce GM potatoes to County Carlow.
Afri spokesperson Lisa Patten described the Teagasc application as “contaminating” Ireland’s green reputation. Ms Patten said “this move would be a serious blow to our food sovereignty and undermine this indigenous and flourishing part of the Irish economy which is part of the fabric of our social and cultural heritage. Introducing genetically modified food into our food sector is a cul de sac for the Irish people and seriously damaging to our reputation as a green, clean island. Our government should be doing everything they can to develop our proven potential to become the hub for GM-free food which the European market in particular is demanding, as well as safeguarding the safety and food security of the Irish people.”
The protest was supported by the Irish Seed Savers Association (ISSA), Ireland’s leading non-governmental organisation working to preserve indigenous crop varieties. ISSA spokesperson Anita Hayes said that “one of the most positive stories in this difficult time has been the increasing demand for high quality Irish foods – our reputation for pure, clean food is one of our most valuable assets but could easily be destroyed”. Calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to reject the Teagasc application, she noted that genetic modification would introduce a new organism into a complex and dynamic living system and that “we can have no definitive control over how it will evolve in the natural environment over generations”.
Tipperary-based proponent of organic agriculture Stella Coffey called on Teagasc to withdraw its application, describing it as “the thin end of the wedge regarding GM crops in Ireland” and called for “a full national discussion on GM crops preceding any decision on GM crop trials in Ireland; organic and GM potatoes cannot exist side by side without contamination occurring”.
On 27th February 2012 Teagasc submitted an application to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a license to study blight-resistant GM potatoes in their research centre in County Carlow. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Scientific and Technology for Development (IAASTD) undertaken in 2009 by 400 scientists and development experts from over 80 countries and approved by 58 governments, including Ireland, did not recommend GM as a means of alleviating poverty or improving food security. Opponents argue that the license should be refused given the scientific uncertainty around the risks to human health, the possibility of contamination (despite Teagasc’s stated commitments to avoid this), and the consequences for biodiversity. Furthermore, the Irish Seed Savers Association already supply blight-resistant potatoes and are doing vital work to meet Ireland’s obligations under the Convention on Biodiversity and ensuring that native Irish seeds are preserved.
All photos by Derek Speirs