Previously GM crops were approved or not by the EU. As and from this year, individual member states make their own decisions about GM crops.
In practical terms this relates only to one approved GM maize variety, and several maize varieties pending approval.
The growing or otherwise of GM potatoes will not be effected by this process.
This makes the Irish Department of Environment’s decision not to opt out all the more noteworthy: Ireland grows a trial crop of GM potatoes, but does not grow GM maize, even at trial levels. (Spain is the only EU country which grows GM maize in any commercial quantity).
By close of business last Friday, EU member states (and “regions”, such as Northern Ireland, Scotland, the two parts of Belgium) had the choice to declare their intentions with regard to these GM maize crops.
At least 14 countries and three regions chose to opt out, including near neighbours Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, as well as big hitters like France and Germany.
Here’s what the Irish Department of Environment said when queried by this columnist: “Responsibility for GMO policy and regulation in Ireland rests across a range of Government departments and agencies.
"At present, there is no commercial cultivation of GMO crops in Ireland. The relevant departments and agencies are continuing to discuss and consider the revised legislation on GM cultivation, and what, if any, the practical and legal implications might be for the future.
"Irish GMO policy, including in relation to the “opt-out” clause which Ireland supported when first proposed, is continually kept under review on the basis of experiences and approaches of other member states.”
So Ireland was in favour of an opt out initially. Three times, when queried by this columnist — including twice on deadline day — they replied that “no decision had been made”.
In real terms no decision is a decision to opt in — it leaves the door open to grow GM maize.
Kerry farmer and IOFGA chair Thomas O’Connor says: “We need to make a stance on the GM issue to protect Ireland’s farming international green image.
“Ireland needs to become a GM free island, ensuring the quality and reputation of all our Irish agricultural products are maintained.
"We especially need to protect our certified organic farmers from the direct loss of their livelihood through cross contamination with genetically manipulated organisms both plant and animal.
“The last decade has shown that agricultural systems dependent on GM crops enter a downward spiral of product quality and an increasing cost base.
"They become dependent on corporate seed, fertiliser and chemical inputs, driving up their costs while at the same time reducing the return on their crops. But this is not the only thing systems of GM farming destroy the soil and fertility built up by previous generations of farmers.
“In the age of climate change we are all aware of our dependence on fossil fuels. GM agriculture is oil converted to food. We need to start building more nature based agricultural systems. Systems that increase the quality of our foods while improving the health of our soil and environment.
“In Ireland we still have much of the wealth laid down in our soils and our environment still remains relatively healthy. We need to protect this. It is more important than the banks, it’s our food. We cannot allow the genetic pollution of an already decreasing biodiversity to be allowed.”
Not opting out doesn’t mean opting in. But why has Ireland decided to generate unnecessarily bad PR in an Origin Green context?