Angry reaction to GM potatoes go-ahead

Top names from the food, restaurant, and tourism sectors have sharply criticised the Environmental Protection Agency for potentially destroying Ireland’s “clean, green” agricultural image by allowing GM potatoes to be grown in Ireland.

The agency has given consent to the Department of Agriculture’s research arm, Teagasc, to carry out field trials on a genetically modified potato that could improve resistance to blight. The trial is to be carried out over the next four years, at Oak Park in Co Carlow, on an area up to two hectares.

Speaking as a member of Slow Food Ireland, the European Chef’s Association, Eurotoques, and the Taste Council, chef and owner of Ballymaloe House, Darina Allen, said she “felt so let down” by what she described as “a deeply regrettable decision”.

The Bridgestone Food Guides said “there is nothing in the decision for Ireland”, while the Restaurants Association said the decision “is not good” for the Irish food industry.

However, IFA potato committee chairman Thomas Carpenter said the added costs of spraying potatoes to protect them from blight, coupled with the lower crop yield, will see consumers having to pay more for potatoes this year.

Tommy Cooke, a Tipperary farmer, ICMSA council member, and Teagasc board member, said his and his neighbour’s potato crops have been decimated by the rain and the resulting blight.

“Commercial potato farmers are spraying on a weekly basis to combat the weather,” he said. “It is impossible to protect the crop from blight this year. If the country was depending only on that crop, we would be starving right now.”

However, Ms Allen said “the consequential risk for Ireland’s food business is much greater than any potential benefits in reducing crop costs”.

“Huge investments have been made in building the island’s reputation as a green, clean, good-food island by Fáilte Ireland, Aer Lingus, Bord Bia, Diageo, Irish Distillers, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, and many others. This strategic benefit is being devalued and undermined by policies that pander to the owners of unproven, patented technologies that can cause unforeseen consequences to the environment and Ireland’s future as a pristine producer.”

John McKenna, publisher of the Bridgestone guides, also attacked the decision.

“What makes the food culture in Ireland special is its purity and distinctiveness. With GM foods there is no distinctiveness, no difference between a potato grown in Tipperary or Down or Iowa. I think that we have seen from the worldwide growing of GM foods that everything it promised has failed to come true.”

The GM potatoes were developed at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. No biotechnology or GM company was involved. The EPA gave the project the green light after examining more than 83 submissions from interested parties after Teagasc’s plans were submitted. They also consulted with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Department of Agriculture.

A judicial review of the decision must be sought within three months.


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