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GM crop trials ban 'almost like burning books'

Thursday, January 15, 2009
AGRICULTURE Minister Brendan Smith’s statement a few weeks ago that the Government is “discouraging cultivation of GM crops” indicates that Ireland’s hopes for a knowledge-based economy are dead and gone.

Such a shortsighted, scientifically unsupported policy, developed without consultation, excludes the basic research and development tool of GM crop field trials.

Scientific GM research trials in the EU now number more than 2,400 and have reported no negative impact on health or the environment.

France alone has sanctioned 588 GM crop trials.

These are essential for basic scientific inquiry. To prevent GM crop trials outright is one step removed from burning books.

Discouraging GM research trials would contradict the Government’s Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (2006-’13) which identified the importance of building a capability in agri-biotechnology in order to assess, harness and adopt technological innovations.

It stated: “Potential areas for application include animal and plant sciences, food innovation, forestry and wood chain and other non-food crops, as well as risk evaluation of GMOs and their implications for agri-food.”

This goal will be impossible if GM crop research trials are banned.

Seemingly Fianna Fáil, which had previously allowed research trials of GM crops, has now conceded to the a la carte scientific illiteracy of the Greens.

Like most irrational positions, it is one of contradiction.

While Irish publicly-funded GM technology to prevent potato blight sits on a lab shelf, the Government is happy to let more than 250,000 lbs of toxic fungicide be used annually on Irish potatoes against blight.

Greens in government elsewhere in Europe have allowed GM crop research trials to take place. The Greens in power in Germany allowed more than 40 such GM crop trials.

Public research into GM crops is seen to be of growing importance for many countries, including our EU partners. Cuba, the ultimate public sector state, has had 59 GM field trials and is bringing to market a GM corn developed via Cuban public research that will reduce pesticide use.

China has just committed to investing the equivalent of $3.500 billion of new public funds into GM crop research.

The rejection of such research trials, based on nothing but ignorance, makes a joke out of Ireland’s claim to be a leading science location.

Science policy in Ireland has been reduced to throwing the baby out with the bathwater without any democratic consultation with sectors of society (eg, farming, agri-food industry, forestry, bioenergy) whose livelihoods and competitiveness will be negatively affected over the coming years due to political myopia on “GM issues”.

The Government urgently needs an advisory “foresight” committee on GM technology so that it can develop evidence-based policies in a democratic manner in this strategic area.

Shane Morris
Dublin 18