Should Ireland declare itself GM-free in food production?

One of the pledges in the October 2009 Revised Programme for Government is to declare Ireland a GM-free zone. The Programme promises to “declare the Republic of Ireland a GM-Free Zone, free from the cultivation of all GM plants”, and states “To optimise Ireland’s competitive advantage as a GM-Free country, we will introduce a voluntary GM-Free logo for use in all relevant product labelling and advertising, similar to a scheme recently introduced in Germany.” This followed the commitment in the 2007 Programme for Government that “the Government will seek to negotiate the establishment of an all-Ireland GMO-free [crop] zone.”

The issue has become topical because of a proposed change in EU legislation which would allow individual Member States to permit the cultivation of  GM crops or not. The idea is to combine a European Union authorisation system for GMOs, based on science, with freedom for Member States to decide whether or not they wish to cultivate GM crops on their territory. Any such prohibitions or restrictions would have to be based on grounds other than those covered by the environmental and health risk assessment under the EU authorisation system. It is expected that the new legislation will enter into force by the end of this year.

Yesterday’s Irish Times reported that the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association has called on the government to immediately implement the Programme for Government pledge. Would it make sense to do so?

What would GM-free mean?

As GMOs enter the food chain at various points, it is important to be clear on what would be meant by a GM-free zone.
–    Genetically modified microbes enter the food chain through food processing, where they play an important role as enzymes in the production of cheese, beer, whiskey, bread and fruit juices.  They are developed in fermenters in contained facilities regulated by EU directive.
–    Genetically-modified crops have been developed with desirable agronomic properties such as resistance to pests and diseases. In the future, GM crops will be developed with desirable attributes for flavour and nutrition. The EU regulatory process governs approvals of GM crops for cultivation and for use as food or animal feed in the EU. Worldwide, there has been a dramatic increase in the production of GM varieties of soyabeans, maize, oilseed rape and other crops, but the EU approval process has been slow in keeping up. GM crops approved for food or feed use must be labelled as GM if the GM content exceeds the 0.9% labelling threshold.
–    Several animal species have been genetically modified and a number have also been cloned  (cloned animals are not necessarily genetically modified, but one of the reasons for using cloned animals may be the rapid extension of inserted genetic material).  Currently, no GM animals or derived products are on the EU market.
–    However, most conventional livestock production now uses GM feed ingredients such as GM maize or soya. There is no requirement under EU legislation for animals fed on GM feeds to be labelled as such (a majority of the European Parliament voted against a proposal calling for compulsory labelling of food products that derive from animals raised on genetically-modified feed last month).  However, a number of supermarket chains in Europe are working to remove GM feeds from some of their supply chains, such as premium own label brands.

Even among GM critics there is no apparent desire to ban the use of GM microbes. A GM-free area would obviously require a ban on the cultivation of GM crops. The Programme for Government commitment would still allow Irish livestock producers access to GM feed imports. Indeed, the government would not have the right even under the new EU legislation to prevent the import of approved GM food or feed except for cultivation. However, an official label would be created for producers who wanted to claim GM-free status which would require all such food and livestock to be produced with certified non-GM ingredients.

Costs and benefits of a ban on GM crops

The use of GM technologies in agriculture in Europe is controversial, with critics highlighting its actual and potential adverse effects on human health (the existence of toxic or allergic reactions), the environment (gene flow), biodiversity and ethical issues. Supporters of the technology point to the fact that it is highly regulated, that there have been no documented instances of injury to human health since GM crops began to be cultivated in 1995, and that there are significant benefits both to food production and the environment from their use.  They also point to reputational damage to Ireland’s attempt to brand itself as an innovation society if policy is made on the basis of fears and perceptions which run counter to what science has shown.

Of relevance to readers of this blog is that there does not appear to have been any proper economic analysis of the proposal to declare Ireland a GM-free zone. It is not a foregone conclusion that such an analysis would find against the proposal. There is evidence that on the European market GM-free foodstuffs can command a price premium over GM foods. Even for those of us who support the science, there could be an economic case for banning the cultivation of GM crops if the result was to lift the overall prices received by Irish farmers by more than the additional costs they  would incur by not being able to access GM varieties.

The GM varieties currently available are not of great interest to Irish agriculture, but we are starting to plant larger areas of maize and oilseed rape, and GM varieties of wheat, barley and potatoes could become available in the near future. Teagasc economists attempted to estimate the higher costs of production due to a GM ban some years ago. Apart from sugarbeet (which is no longer relevant), they took no account of any favourable yield effects. Savings accrued to farmers from lower chemical outlays, partially offset by the higher cost of seed. They did not take explicit account of coexistence or liability costs, and the costs of Identity Preservation (i.e. being able to certify that your production is GM-free) were assumed to be borne by the non-GM producer.  The study recognised that the GM variety would probably sell at a discount to the non-GM variety. On this basis, they estimated that crop farmers would be worse off by between €1 and €3 million as a result of a ban.

The discount used in the study for GM varieties may be exaggerated. The bulk of Irish cereals production is sold for animal feed, which is in any case mainly supplied from GM sources. There is little evidence that Irish feed compounders would be prepared to pay a premium for non-GM supplies as long as GM imports are allowed. On the other hand, more stringent regulations on co-existence would further reduce the profitability of GM varieties.  On balance, it is likely that Irish agriculture would lose out from a ban prohibiting the cultivation of GM crops.

Costs and benefits of a ban on GM feed (if it were possible)

The cost-benefit analysis would be different for a second scenario where Ireland also banned GM imports for livestock feed (recall again that this is not a legal option open to the Irish government, but could conceivably be introduced through voluntary collective action).  Here, the main cost would now be the higher cost of sourcing non-GM supplies of maize and soyabean meal for livestock producers. That non-GM feeds cost more than GM feeds is not disputed, but the size of the premium is. Part of the problem is that, with the rapid spread of GM varieties in the main producing areas, the size of the premium today may underestimate the amount that would have to be paid a few years hence. The Teagasc study  estimated higher feed costs of between €7 and €35 million. A more recent Teagasc estimate for pig producers suggests that higher feed costs from non-GM sources could add €60 million to production costs. On the other hand, crop producers could expect to benefit from this feed premium as compounders would now be prepared to pay a higher price for Irish non-GM supplies.

The important element here is that the bulk of Irish beef and dairy production is exported to EU and overseas markets. The unknown question is whether certifying that all Irish food and livestock products are produced with non-GM ingredients would yield a premium in the market place sufficient to cover these increased costs. GM-Free Ireland have produced extensive documentation on the search by EU supermarkets for GM-free supply chains. Another Teagasc study showed that Irish consumers were unwilling to purchase a GM yoghurt or a GM dairy spread even when they offered specific health benefits. The economic literature evaluating consumers’ willingness-to-pay  suggests that quite a high premium exists for non-GM food (around 25% from a meta analysis of individual studies). However, it would be important to determine if this premium could really be extracted from the market place for Irish-produced beef and dairy products which were certified as produced with non-GM ingredients in comparison to the cost of establishing this reputation.

Impact assessment needed before decision is announced

Ireland is a high-cost agricultural producer from a global perspective, and to survive Irish farm produce has to develop a premium quality image. But it only makes sense to pursue higher quality if the market return exceeds the costs incurred. This is unlikely to be the case for a GM ban on crop production. However, a voluntary GM-free label could allow conventional producers (organic producers are already prevented from using GM seeds or feeds) to benefit from specific niche markets where a premium for non-GM products exists. In any case, the economic impact study should be done before the decision is announced.

65 thoughts on “Should Ireland declare itself GM-free in food production?”

  1. The Green’s stance of GM is dogma – one of several they have. Probably all of our food and animals are a result of genetic modification, its called breeding. Every parent has done it too, though perhaps not always wisely.
    GM is about doing it cleverly rather the blunderbuss approach of combining different variants. Some developing countries have enjoyed spectacular increases in agricultural outputs because of GM: I wonder would the Greens like to lecture them on their apparent folly?
    So how do you do a Cost Benefit study of a GM ban when its far from clear that there are any benefits from a ban? If private producers (or their consumers) don’t like the stuff thats up to them. If someone wants to market food as GM-free (or vegetarian or kosher..) let them.
    For a calm discussion of the science see
    http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/PDF/MakingSenseofGM.pdf

  2. The political Greens are jellyfish like their counterparts.

    Dare they challenge the well-fed anti-science ignorant among them!

    This bandwagon initially attracted anti-US multinational types and through violence, made it even more an MNC issue as they pressured public research institutes in Europe not to engage in experimentation.

    Now, emerging economies such as China and Brazil are in the vanguard of development and current research will be of particular help to regions that will be impacted by climate change because of the development of drought resistant seeds.

    After more than a decade of use, there is no credible evidence of an impact on public health.

    Of course well-fed Europeans who like their anti-climate change brethren, can always google for some contrary claim to support their view, will not be convinced.

    According to the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Father of the Green Revolution, but for biotechnology, there would have been much more environmental degradation if conventional farming had expanded to feed the growing world population.

    So there it is: comfortable anti-science European environmentalists advocating policies that would increase destruction of forests, increase soil erosion and destroy diversity.

    Use of GM food biotechnology continues to grow across globe; Well-fed Europeans remain resistant:

    http://www.finfacts.ie/irishfinancenews/article_1019199.shtml

    As for Ireland being declared a GM-free zone, it would be a joke to claim such branding if there were aspects of GM in the production chain.

    Given the failure to exploit the potential of the food industry, it would be even a bigger joke or calamity to take this route, as in a decade, this issue is likely to be only an obsession for cranks and Prince Charles — a man with 50 servants.

  3. “So there it is: comfortable anti-science European environmentalists advocating policies that would increase destruction of forests, increase soil erosion and destroy diversity.”

    Never hear of Jevon’s paradox?

    Anyway, there is more than enough food in Africa, let alone the World, just as there was in Ireland during the famine. Its simply a question of distribution.

  4. @Kevin

    Consumer attitudes to food are shaped by many factors, including social, aesthetic, ethical and cultural considerations as well as purely nutritional ones. Even where there is no scientific case for a ban on GM crops that have been through the EU regulatory process, there could be a case on market grounds if there were evidence that consumers are willing to pay a sufficient premium for non-GM foods, in the same way as people pay more for fair trade coffee or organic lettuce, and if a ban were shown to be necessary to allow producers to access this market. The alternative is the less restrictive approach of a voluntary government logo which would facilitate individual producers to access the non-GM market, although I do not underestimate the problem of ensuring co-existence. I think you are probably right that there would be little economic benefit from a government ban on cultivating GM crops even when possible additional costs for the conventional and organic sectors are included. But a GM ban is a regulation. The government is committed to regulatory impact assessment before introducing new regulations, and this should also be done in this instance before a decision is taken.

  5. @ Rory O’Farrell

    It should hardly be a surprise that hungry people eat more when supplies increase and prices fall.

    Professor M.S.Swaminathan, President, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences of India, said at a US Congressional Medal of Honor award ceremony in July 2007 for Norman Borlaug: “The impact of the Borlaug-led Green Revolution symphony will be clear from the fact that during 1964-68, Indian farmers increased wheat production in four years by an order greater than that achieved during the preceding 4,000 years.”

  6. Interesting. The stupidity of the greens knows no bounds

    I highly recommend watching the BBC horizon episode from last year on GM. Some higlights:
    * The green movement complain that there are dangers yet prevent scientists from doing research.
    * People in certain African countries died because on advice from European greens governments of certain African states refused to distribute aid with GM sources,the very same cereals eaten by Americans for over a decade, the tragic deaths of these people are on the hands of bloody greens 🙁

    Instead of embracing researching and capitalising on new tech (which at the end of the day is a form of smarter breeding and selection ) our breed of environut luddites are shooting themselves in foot

  7. I very much agree that “the economic impact study should be done before the decision is announced”, but there are two problems.

    First, economic provides the best set of tools to inform the decision, but, since the analysis will be prospective (taking a view on possible and likely future developments), reaching agreement on the necessary set of assumptions is crucial. Equally important is the definition of the scope of the analysis. I am sure we can all recount examples where government commissioned analysis, but set the Terms of Reference so tight, that the only answer likely to emerge was the one government (or its agencies) desired. Any independent and objective analysis (assuming resources could be secured to prepare and present it) is ignored, rubbished or rejected. Government everywhere do this, but it seems to be practised more comprehensively in Ireland.

    Second, we are entering the final stretch of this government. The Green Party has a specific agenda of policies it wishes to implement. The financial and economic crisis has slowed the pace and restricted the scope of implementation, but its ambition remains undimmed. The progressive erosion of the Government’s Dail majority has strengthened the position of the Green Party. It is now pushing for the implementation of policies that are unlikely to have any significant measure of support among voters. This is just one, but which, fortunately may have a limited detrimental economic impact. Much more economically damaging policies are being pursued in the energy and environmental areas.

    However, the Green Party is determined to leverage its limited presence in the Dail to implement its policies – and, given that the survival of the Government is dependent on its support, is likely to succeed in the face of any economic or scientific evidence that might be advanced.

    This will all be resolved in backroom horse-trading on policies and the public interest will never make the agenda.

  8. @ Michael

    Yes, but now we have more obese people on the planet than underfed, and poverty is increasingly being associated with obesity rather than lack of food.

    Of course there are still hundreds of millions who are underfed, but I stand by my claim that (as during the Irish famine) the problem is not one of production but distribution.

    GM crops are very closely linked with industrialised agriculture, and have very little to offer subsistence farmers who mainly live outside the market.

  9. @Alan:
    “The government is committed to regulatory impact assessment before introducing new regulations, and this should also be done in this instance before a decision is taken.”

    Michael Hennigan’s point “This bandwagon initially attracted anti-US multinational types […]” raises the issue of concentration of power in food production. I have seen it argued that GM, with a ban on the saving of seeds (I don’t know whether Irish farmers actually save seeds), gives more control to the large firms that developed the seeds and associated chemicals, at the expense of the farmers. On the other hand, some members of a second set of multinationals, the supermarket chains, whcih already have much power in the food production industry, seem to have an interest in providing GM-free products.

    Do such matters have real economic effects that could be included in any regulatory impact assessment? Or is it possible that Ireland is simply too small and has to accept whatever the various sets of MNCs decide?

    bjg

  10. It is well and proper to consider the issue of banning GM crops from a cost benefit perspective, but in doing this, we should not fall into the trap of framing the CBA from a static viewpoint in order to bias the results.

    I confess to know little about the science of GMOs, but I have heard said time and again that the most worrying aspect of the technology is that potential long-term health effects are unknown.

    Not only that, but it appears they fall into Donald Rumsfeld’s unfortunate category of ‘unknown unknowns’, implying in economic terms that not only do we not know the precise values to assign to the probability of a catestrophic health outcome at some future period, but we do not even know the form of the probability distribution.

    To express this uncertainty in terms of Prof. Matthews rough-and-ready CBA above, there is an unknown weight to be attached as a denominator to the future price variable for GMO products, which is a function of this unknown health effects variable. It could turn out to be very large indeed, implying a huge financial reward for the cultivation of non-GMOs and the creation of a (convieniently) island-sized, teddy-bear shaped, GMO-free zone.

  11. FFS should it not be down to consumers to have a CHOICE whether they want GM or not in their foods?

    This proposal is downright fascist and restricts freedom of choice

    Ensure that products are correctly labelled and let consumers (here and abroad) vote with their valets

    The willingness of the Greens to make decisions in how our lives are run, down to what we eat would make Stalin proud

    The Green antiGm movement is preventing proper scientific research from being carried out, by protesters often trespassing in private property and destroying test crops, that kinda carry on is not on

    By banning technologies with such great potential (there are crops modified to be pest resistant for example, hence helping the environment by farmers using lest pesticides) we would put ourselves in the corner

    It is no wonder that some economists would support such a fascistic idea as restricting freedom of choice and research, Yee lot are responsible for messing about in markets and telling us that everything is hunky dory while in reality the economies of the world were hanging on a cliff edge

    tl:dr anyone who advocates banning of scientific research and then claims to be a scientist is bloody hypocrite, let the experts decide whether GM is good or bad after extensive trials, enough of this Hippie shite

  12. I saw this a while back…….can’t seem to find it on the Tribune website now (lost patience searching it)

    Ireland: Government’s Stance on GM crops is Wrong-headed

    Sunday Tribune (Ireland), Nov 22, 2009 http://www.tribune.ie

    I would like to bring to your attention an area what makes a mockery of Ireland’s so-called “knowledge economy”. Innovation and knowledge are words that are repeated often in the new programme for government.

    However, in practice, it is clear the government has turned its back on the scientific search for knowledge by ruling out research trials on GM crops. This Luddite stance effectively throws the baby out with the bath water by refusing to even research the issue. This commitment goes against EU law, contradicts advice from the Irish chief science advisor, short changes Irish farmers and is a sad attempt to mislead the Irish public.

    The ludicrous nature of this proposal is reflected in several facts. Firstly, EU regulations govern research trials of GM crops so it is not currently legally possible for the Irish government to ban such research. This was highlighted by Fianna Fail’s Noel Dempsey when, as environment minister, he accepted as government policy an independent public consultation report which ruled out a ban on crop trials in Ireland stating that it would not be legally possible to ban them. The report also warned that, if Ireland rejects or ignores GM biotechnology, it will not remain attractive to investors in high-tech industries or competitive in food production.

    Secondly, the current government has only recently drafted specific wording on research trials of GM crops in their Environment Liability Act which will regulate GM crops cultivated in Ireland under EU law. Such a move seems strange if they believe a programme for government can ban such research.

    Thirdly, banning GM crop research trials would contradict the government’s own Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (2006 to 2013) which identified the importance of building a capability in agri-biotechnology in order to assess, harness and adopt new technological innovations.

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

    In addition, it should be noted that the IFA, in their “Meeting Challenges” policy submission to government, stated: “Provided that the use and release of GMOs meet all the detailed regulatory requirements, IFA’s assessment of GM technology is that, like science and technology generally, it can have many positive implications for agriculture and food production.” This perspective was supported by professor Patrick Cunningham, Ireland’s chief science advisor, who recently issued a report to the current government on GM foods. The report looked at safety, benefits and risks, and highlighted that GM technology was of value to Ireland. Public research into GM crop development is seen to be of growing importance for many countries, including our EU partners. On the global stage GM crop research is seen as a key technology platform. Cuba, the ultimate public sector state, has had 59 GM field trials. China has just committed to investing the equivalent of $3,500m of new public funds into GM crop research.

    The new programme for government’s shortsighted, scientifically unsupported GM policy, developed without any scientific, stakeholder or public consultation, now excludes the basic research and development tool of GM crop field trials. This puts Ireland at the back of the class in terms of EU research as scientific GM research trials in the EU now number over 2,400 and have reported no negative impacts on health or the environment. France, the bastion of good food, has sanctioned over 587 GM crop trials.

    Fianna Fáil, who previously allowed research trials of GM crops in Ireland, have conceded to the à 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 current government is happy to let over 250,000 pounds of toxic fungicide be used annually on Irish potatoes against blight. Greens in government elsewhere in Europe have allowed GM crop research trials. So while the programme for government proclaims “Ireland will be a test-bed for emerging technologies”, when it comes to agri-food innovation, the government is happy to hide under the bed. It makes a joke of Ireland’s claim to be a leading science location.

    Shane H Morris, Deparment of Biochemistry, Lee Maltings, Prospect Row, University College Cork

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  14. @Lorcan

    The problem is that the Green movement here and in Europe is actively involved in criminal acts of trespassing on private property and destroying test/research crops

    Its gone to a point where farmers are afraid of participating in trials, how can scientists gather evidence and study the technology when their efforts are being destroyed by luddites?

    and now there is this ban here being proposed

    leave scientists alone to their research

    grrrr as an engineer with a science background these Greens drive me up the wall with their “dogma”

    and worse the willingness to try to control and run all aspects of our lives, their enthusiasm is downright fascist and no im not using the word lightly

    who the frack are they to tell us what we can and can not eat or research? and based on what evidence?

  15. @ Rory O’Farrell

    Rory,

    …the problem is not one of production but distribution.

    This is an interesting academic observation but unless there is a benign god to organise the world better and maybe rejig the weather patterns, we have to manage with a sub-optimal situation.

    As for production, are you saying that production levels without the past benefit of biotechnology would have sufficed with better distribution?

    GM crops are very closely linked with industrialised agriculture, and have very little to offer subsistence farmers who mainly live outside the market.

    So even out of patent, are you saying that GM seeds that are more resistant to drought and the food plant destroying insects which plague tropical and sub-tropical regions, would be no help in such areas?

    Is this theory or have you lived in these regions?

    There is some form of market in most areas of the world; subsistence farmers who mainly live outside the market are not significant in number these days.

    @ Ribbit

    I confess to know little about the science of GMOs, but I have heard said time and again that the most worrying aspect of the technology is that potential long-term health effects are unknown.

    They have been in use for more than a decade.

    There is no absolute certainty in life and much of the conventional foods and drinks have their risks and unknowns even organic ones.

    How about shrimps on Prozac or Dublin Bay Prawns on qa diet of sewage?

    Of course we want to have our cake and eat it; oil from Africa or Arabia but no gas for May and on it goes. But we want the ESB supply and so on.

  16. @ Michael

    Regardless of whether we have a benign god (or God) there are plenty of things we can do to improve distribution, all of which are the simple tried and tested ways of improving human development. Such policies include improved access to primary education, primary health care, and land reforms would help too. GM crops are presented as a technological fix, but for a socio-economic problem.

    “So even out of patent, are you saying that GM seeds that are more resistant to drought and the food plant destroying insects which plague tropical and sub-tropical regions, would be no help in such areas?”

    Certainly less helpful than biodiversity. In the poorer countries (where poverty leads to hunger rather than obesity) agriculture is labour intensive whereas GM crops largely help problems of industrialised agriculture. They were developed that way because Monsanto knew there was money to be made in industrialised agriculture, not from some hungry peasants.

    There are arguments to be made in favour of GM crops, but curing world hunger has to be about the worst of them.

  17. Anyone who remembers the 70s will recall the wads of garbage marketing directed at supporting ‘protein alternatives’ playing on the baseless fear that the world was about to run out of animal protein.There are several very legitimate concerns about GM foods. Seed husbandry is one. Some varieties of GM seed are deliberately bred/modified not to produce germinators. Once the harvest is in, the seeds are inert. This is a major change in agricultural practice and food production. It would mean that ‘live’ seed could only be bought from MNCs. In the second place animal husbandry is being altered by genetic engineering. No since Adam was a boy and gave up his hunter-gather lifestyle, farmers selected stock of ‘folk genetic’ grounds to produce better progeny, etc. Genetic engineering changes these practices and again, the MNCs could end up controlling the commercial animal market, by producing even more supermarket friendly carcasses. Since the end of World War II diversity in seeds and farm animal species has declined quite dramatically. There is human heritage angle that is overlooked in the rush to defer to the science. I understand the arguments in favour of GM, but I would respond if it is so fine why not just live off chemically balanced protein drinks and be done with it?

  18. BTW: It makes more sense to talk in terms of plants that are more or less drought tolerant than seeds that are drought resistant. All seed is drought resistant prior planting and germination.

  19. @ The Alchemist:
    “Some varieties of GM seed are deliberately bred/modified not to produce germinators. Once the harvest is in, the seeds are inert. ”

    this is untrue and no GM crop is on the market that are ‘terminator’ in nature…..however I do worry about those organic seedless grapes!!! (they don’t germinate anything)…. scary!

    your human heritage argument is poppy as we have been deferring to science on crop production on a regular basis for generations, its just that GM is one type of crop technology that has been come stigmatized in recent years for political reasons…..lots of research showing non-GM crops have have worse possible environmental and health risks (note I say possible risks)

  20. @ Dan Williams

    Regardless of the science it is true, as you say, that GM crops are stigmatised.

    Some people on here have made comments about consumer choice. This is a bit invalid as if GM is banned here consumers can still buy GM products from abroad. However if GM is grown here there is a strong change of cross fertilisation meaning that no-crops are GM free in Ireland.

    If a country like Belgium were to go GM free it would be a bit pointless as cross-fertilisation could occur from crops in France or Netherlands. However, with North-South cooperation Ireland has the advantage of no land borders and can remain GM free. So, apart from New Zealand, we would be the only advanced agricultural country that can realistically be GM free.

    As GM is stigmatised, this can be a good marketing advantage. If we go GM there is no way back, but if we do not adopt GM we can always do so in the future.

  21. @Dan Williams
    The difference between GM agriculture and current practices is not one of degree but of kind. Modification of genetic material is a quantum leap (sorry to mix metaphors) beyond current practices. Wisdom in applying science to crop production and protection is somewhat different to deference. I favour plant (and animal) diversity in the environment. Under CAP in particular EU agriculture shifted from mixed farming to narrow mono-culture practices. There is an argument that this hasn’t been good for the environment. It also has been very kind to BigPharma. And it is OK to be political about food production. It is rather more important to human survival than many other issues.

  22. @Rory O’Farrell

    Good idea. Ireland could become a Green GM & Nuclear free bastion against the outside world.

    Some will argue that migratory birds will excrete GM seeds they have picked up in Europe or Russia here. To silence these critics, we should declare an avian no-fly zone over Ireland to eliminate this risk.

  23. @Kevin Denny
    “probably all of our food and animals are a result of genetic modification, its called breeding.”

    That’s quite misleading, Kevin. While humans have been cross-breeding for a very long time indeed, there is something very different in the GM crops available today, and it is that their DNA has been blasted with new genes, usually from bacteria. Mankind’s early efforts at cross-species breeding, horses and donkeys to produce mules, for example, have led to sterility. At least horses and donkeys were somewhat related. We have no idea what the long term effects of mixing bacterial DNA with plant DNA will be, and so far much of the tests conducted by the corporations involved have been poor to say the least.

    This is an important debate for Ireland. It would be a massive help to all of us if there were some truly independent testing of these crops in making a decision that is likely to have a massive impact on future generations here.

  24. It’s laughable how some people can be pro science on climate change, regard deniers as ignoramuses and be anti-science on GM foods.

    Ireland’s official goal is to be recognised as a world-class knowledge economy!!

    The EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner, John Dalli, confirmed that his decision to let individual member countries set their own policy, had nothing to do with science: <i<“Granting genuine freedom on grounds other than those based on a scientific assessment of health and environmental risks also necessitates a change to the current legislation. I stress that, the EU-wide authorisation system, based on solid science, remains fully in place.”

    In Ireland, we have of course as usual, a vested interest loudly clamouring for action. This time it’s the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA).

    Like the Irish Waste Management Association, these industry groups must love the Greens.

    @ bg

    Prof Matthews says “even among GM critics there is no apparent desire to ban the use of GM microbes.”

    Like the ambivalent concept of neutrality, what the poltroons are happy with are 1) a nuclear-free zone but with the UK providing nuclear-powered electricity 2) a GM-free Ireland but with exceptions in the small print.

  25. @ Rory O’Farrell:
    “If we go GM there is no way back”…..if so, there is no point in discussing a GM-Free Ireland as Ireland went GM already ….http://www.teagasc.ie/research/reports/crops/4483/eopr4483.asp

    @ The Alchemist:
    “The difference between GM agriculture and current practices is not one of degree but of kind”….more poppy…..what then do you say to the Dutch Government independent advisory committee COGEM who released a report stating “The EU legislation on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is no longer in step with scientific developments in plant biotechnology. As a result it is no longer clear what should be considered to be GMO”…..http://www.cogem.net/ContentFiles/090626-03,%20Should%20EU%20legislation%20be%20updated1.pdf

    I could give you a plant technology by plant technology account undermining you basic thesis….would that help???

  26. “In Ireland, we have of course as usual, a vested interest loudly clamouring for action. This time it’s the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA).”

    Sure it was only a matter of time before you jumped back on that particular hobby horse.

    Which do you think is more powerful the IOFGA or MNCs with budgets the size of billions?

    Also why not allow the UK take the risks of nuclear energy and sit back and reap the benefits ourselves? I suppose that must be down to vested interest groups too (with their vests made of non-GM cotton of course).

  27. @ Rory O’Farrell:
    “If we go GM there is no way back”…..if so, there is no point in discussing a GM-Free Ireland as Ireland went GM already ….http://www.teagasc.ie/research/reports/crops/4483/eopr4483.asp

    @ The Alchemist:
    “The difference between GM agriculture and current practices is not one of degree but of kind”….more poppy…..what then do you say to the Dutch Government independent advisory committee COGEM who released a report stating “The EU legislation on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is no longer in step with scientific developments in plant biotechnology. As a result it is no longer clear what should be considered to be GMO”…..http://www.cogem.net/ContentFiles/090626-03,%20Should%20EU%20legislation%20be%20updated1.pdf

    I could give you a plant technology by plant technology account undermining you basic thesis….would that help???

  28. GMO introduces tricky issues into the farming domain, such as those explored in Monsanto Canada vs Schmeiser. It’s not merely a question of using better seeds, but the right to use (and reuse) those seeds – this inherently changes the economic model of farming as it existed pre GMO. It’s also a question of whether you can CHOOSE (@FFS) to be a GMO free producer and thus not pay the corporation that “owns” that organism when the claim that such seeds don’t spread is found to be somewhat disputable.

  29. interesting topic that i think is well presented in the post – would the higher premium it would cost to be non-GM be sufficiently offset by what we could charge for non-GM foods? for the green party’s proposal to work i think it will have to appeal to farmers pockets rather than to any beliefs or dogma.

    Any thoughts on gm foods possible contribution to bee colony collapse? as a non-scientist this is something i’ve heard as a possibility, and i gather that stories like these are what frighten the public – unanticipated consequences of messing with the genes of food by huge powerful multinational companies.

  30. @ Mark Dowling…

    wow….I hope you don’t have a legal background….
    two points:
    1. re: Monsanto Canada vs Schmeiser
    This is not tricky at all. The Canadian Supreme Court rejected all twelve elements of Mr. Schmeiser’s appeal case. The court found in the original case that testing showed it was NOT the impact of wind contamination but Mr. Schmeiser planted the property rights protected product.
    (see website http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/fct/2001/2001fct256.shtml)

    in particular paragraph 87 of the ruling states:
    “The appellants in this case [Schmeiser] actively cultivated canola containing the patented invention as part of their business operations. Mr. Schmeiser complained that the original plants came onto his land without his intervention. However, he did not at all explain why he sprayed Roundup to isolate the Roundup Ready plants he found on his land; why he then harvested the plants and segregated the seeds, saved them, and kept them for seed; why he next planted them; and why, through this husbandry, he ended up with 1030 acres [4.2 km²] of Roundup Ready (GM) Canola which would otherwise have cost him $15,000.”

    2. your claim that “this inherently changes the economic model of farming as it existed pre GMO” is incorrect….plant breeding rights have long existed. Royalty payment structures and related legal cases for non-GM crops are many..for example take this non-GM example….http://deltafarmpress.com/mag/farming_saving_clearfield_rice/

    I must say I have been a little shocked by the lack of understanding and knowledge some folks have here about agriculture and basic plant breeding….very worrisome…

  31. @ Holbrook Fields

    re: GM and bee colony collapse
    based on the fact that bee colony collapse is present in as equal numbers in jurisdictions that do not grow GM plants (i.e. most of the EU) this has been ruled out as a link.

  32. @ Holbrook Fields

    lots…..but overall I in tend to agree with IFA Deputy President Eddie Downey’s point that “Farmers respond to market signals and the evidence is that the great majority of consumers are unwilling to pay any premium for products produced using GM-free feed. The GM-free market is a very small niche market and the experience is that any premium achieved is rapidly eroded as supply increases.” (see IFA website, New section, July 29, 2010)

    moreover I would add that so called GM free label (as outlined in the Renewed Prog for Government) that Minister Cuffe is aiming to bring forward is highly dubious. Even the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) are unlikely to be able to support a so called GM-free label on milk and meat as such labelling under EU Directive 2000/13/EC Article 2 is likely considered misleading. As a case in point is the 2004 FSAI statement that:

    “The general food labelling Directive clearly states that labelling should not mislead consumers by associating special characteristics with a food when all other similar foods possess the same characteristics. For example, to label milk as “GM free” could mislead consumers to believe that GM milk is available on the market when as yet there is no such product available.”
    See GM Food Survey 2004 Food labelled with “GM free” type declarations – page 5

    In addition Minister Cuffe is on record as suggesting the proposed GM label will be modeled after the German GM-free label (Sunday Times – Irish edition, July 25, 2010). However, it is known that this German GM-free label is nothing more than misleading marketing spin (members of the current German Government have called it “consumer fraud”) as the current German requirement for a so-called “GM free” label on meats is that the animal can be fed GM but must have their diet changed to non-GM feed before slaughter. However, feed additives derived from GM sources are still allowed. Scientifically this “GM-free” system is meaningless and is thus nothing more than an expensive and misleading marketing tool promoting irrational fear of certain crops and foods.

  33. @ Rory
    ”Also why not allow the UK take the risks of nuclear energy and sit back and reap the benefits ourselves? I suppose that must be down to vested interest groups too (with their vests made of non-GM cotton of course).”

    This sounds familiar. The Irish solution to the Irish problem, rely on the Brits to solve our problem while we pretent to be virteous.
    – Nuclear Power
    – Abortion
    – GMO’s

    Perhaps we can produce non GMO crops for the pampered middle classes of europe who like to think they are virtous by buying ‘organic’. It could be a USP to add a premium to our goods.
    I only say this because we are largely irrelavant globally. GMO’s will be great for the rest of the world.

    ‘Organic’ is the biggest load of nonsense. Without Nitrogen fertiliser the world would be starving and all wilderness cleared to feed everybody. The Haber process was probably the most important technological advance, that did the greatest good, ever (perhaps antibiotics).

  34. @Dan Williams – to be clear, I do not have a legal background, not do I hold a brief for Monsanto or for Mr. Schmeiser.

    The Supreme Court did hold that the patent was valid, as you say (2004 SCC 34, your link was to the prior ruling at the Federal Court level). However, 4 out of 9 judges dissented and the majority allowed the appeal in part in respect of remedy.

    Arbour J. for the minority wrote “In light of Harvard College, I conclude that the patent claims here cannot be interpreted to extend patent protection over whole plants and that there was no infringing use.”

    In essence, what I was pointing out was that the introduction of widespread GMO use into Irish agriculture may produce a similar case, not that such a case would necessarily go one way or the other. Perhaps my link to the second article inferred such. I would be interested to hear an Irish patent lawyer’s perspective on the prospects for a similar case. Sadly, despite knowing several Irish barristers, I know none in the patent sphere. Perhaps you are one yourself?

  35. @ Mark Dowling

    Not to get dragged into debating a different subject (i.e. patent protection extending from gene to whole plant) (I too hail from the UL debating club and long nights of discussion in the Stables..:)) but EU law is very clear on the matter regarding GM crops so the risk of a case similar to the Canadian case is approaching zero (not forgetting the fact that many 1000 of hectares of GM crops have been grown commercially in the EU [e.g. in France, Germany Spain]. Any other legal risk will be similar in case law to the existing plant breeders rights. So, “in essence” GM crops in Ireland on a commercial basis would not “produce a similar case”.

  36. @ Rory O’Farrell

    “Which do you think is more powerful the IOFGA or MNCs with budgets the size of billions?”

    I don’t live in an ideological straitjacket; so the MNCs of course is the answer.

    However, I’m not aware that MNCs fund a K Street type operation on food in Ireland.

    I asked a question earlier, which wasn’t answered : “As for production, are you saying that production levels without the past benefit of biotechnology would have sufficed with better distribution?”

    This is what Norman Borlaug, Father of the Green Revolution said: “For example, the world’s grain output in 1950 was 692 million tons. Forty years or so later, the world’s farmers used about the same amount of acreage but they harvested 1.9 billion tons — a 170% increase! We would have needed an additional 1.8 billion hectares of land, instead of the 600 million used, had the global cereal harvest of 1950 prevailed in 1999 using the same conventional farming methods.”

    @ Dan Williams

    “the current German requirement for a so-called “GM free” label on meats is that the animal can be fed GM but must have their diet changed to non-GM feed before slaughter. However, feed additives derived from GM sources are still allowed.”

    Apart from the fact that no product should be stamped ‘GM free’ if a producer cannot certify that, Ciarán Cuffe’s wish to have Ireland gain a competitive advantage – – a dubious expectation – – has a downside.

    With chemicals remaining a big factor in food production, future problems like the dioxin scare in the pig-meat industry, would have the risk of even bringing more attention to a country with a holier than thou strategy.

    Besides, a company would hardly risk using a ‘GM free’ label if there was a risk that it could not defend a legal claim to the contrary.

  37. “We would have needed an additional 1.8 billion hectares of land, instead of the 600 million used, had the global cereal harvest of 1950 prevailed in 1999 using the same conventional farming methods.”

    Again, what about Jevon’s paradox? How much of that extra cereal output went to feeding people, and how much to feeding livestock?

  38. “Also why not allow the UK take the risks of nuclear energy and sit back and reap the benefits ourselves?”

    Risks? RISKS!

    fecking hell the dumbness of some comments is amazing, if there is a nuclear accident in UK, dont worry will feel it here

    not pursuing nuclear options is yet another reflection of how backward looking the Green muppetry is when it comes to science and technology

  39. @Michael

    Of course you are right that we cannot have 100% certainty in food, and I make no pretense at having an in-depth understanding of GMOs, and the associated health risks.

    My limited understanding, however, suggests your comparison with Dublin Bay Prawns might be a little facetious. The point about GMOs and health risks is that – unlike the market for potentially dangerous prawns – there are considerable contagion risks with GM crops.

    We can have a poisonous prawn market and then decide, whenever we deem the health risk to warrant, that we are going to shut that market down. From what I understand, this cannot be so easily done once we open the door to GMOs.

    My wise old grandfather would have said (if I had had a wise old grandfather) : Do not do what you cannot easily undo, without thinking carefully about what else you might do.

    Nuclear bombs have shown us that there is just because something is scientifically possible, doesn’t necessarily mean we should do it.

  40. @Dan Williams
    But what is the argument for ‘going’ GM? We have been down this road before, especially in the late 60s and 70s. Back then world population growth was the alleged ‘problem’. Global famines would sweep around the world destroying civilization. The food industry proposed textured vegetable protein (TVP) as the wonder solution, even though no one wanted it and its ‘necessity’ was contentious. Some twenty years later the industry came back again, but this time armed with gene technology. Yields would increase, crop disease would be a thing of the past, and even the nutritional content of plants could be altered and improved. Boundless good health and profits all round.

    However, I am not arguing that GM should be banned. It may well be effective when applied to localized crop problems but I am not convinced that the world’s food supply will be any more certain, or people better fed, under GM than under conventional farming. Choice and diversity are possibly incompatible with MNCs’ agendas but I’ll stick with them for now.

  41. @ Alchemist

    As your pseudo suggests, you no doubt favour metallurgic transmorphing over this biological hocus-pocus….

  42. @ Michael

    Of course there were increases in food production. There is a decreasing marginal benefit of increased food production. The increased cereal production has largely not gone to feed people, but to feed livestock. This does have some benefit in improving diets. However in most of the world it has come to the point that increased food production simply leads to obesity. There is more than enough food in the world, and more than enough even in countries with bad malnutrition. The problem is distribution.

    GM crops are not designed to feed the local hungry, but to increase yields of cash crops, because that is where the money is to be made. You don’t get rich from feeding the poor. Would GM corn have solved the Irish Famine? No. There was more than enough corn here at the time and it was exported. The Irish Famine was a problem of distribution.

    As for high school debating, saying that GM crops will feed the worlds poor is nothing more than trying to get an emotional response to rationally raised criticism. That and the term ‘poltroon’ is little more than name calling.

  43. A fantastic post. This kind of analysis should underpin all government decisions. Was a similar analysis done on the tourist tax? Was a similar analysis done on charging people to view the cliffs of moher? You can be certain it wasn’t?

  44. @Rory O’Farrell
    Everyone and I mean everyone involved with cereals knows that development of short strawed wheat (‘dwarf’ wheat) 30 years ago contributed greatly to improving global human nutrition.

  45. The thread appears to have headed off on a hang-the-Greens tangent and ignored the post (not unusual)

    The bottom line appears to be that labelling needs to be improved so that the consumer can clearly see what he is eating. There is no advantage in pursuing a GM free policy if the ultimate consumer is unaware of whether it is GM free or not.

    (Personally I would welcome items with GM content to be flagged by a scarlet sticker with exclamation marks instead of the reverse)

  46. @ The Alchemist

    Can you separate the effects of new grains from distributional issues like land reform?

    My point is not that increased production wont feed people. My point is that its important where it is grown and how it is distributed. So the use of GM in Brazil is not going to help people in Africa who are hungry due to a man made famine.

    If people are truly interested in feeding the world, why not promote the tried and tested techniques like land reform and irrigation. Which do you think is more useful, a GM banana or safe drinking water?

  47. from today’s Indo…looks like there is a market for GM

    Just half would grow GM crops

    By Caitriona Murphy
    Irish Independent, Tuesday August 31 2010
    ALMOST half of young farmers believe that cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops would be positive for Irish agriculture, the Macra na Feirme survey found.

    Some 47.2pc of farmers polled said GM cultivation would be positive but 23.6pc said it would be negative for Irish agriculture.

    A large proportion of farmers (29.2pc) said they did not know whether it would be positive or negative.

    However, when asked if they would consider growing GM crops, given the choice, 54.9pc of farmers said they would, while 45.1pc said they would not.

    Macra president Michael Gowing said young farmers were renowned for embracing new technologies and this was demonstrated by the survey findings on GM.

    “It’s time we had a proper and frank debate on GM cultivation, one that is based on science and not emotive arguments,” he insisted.

    “We can’t let a scenario continue where the Irish Government abstains on votes on GM at EU level.”

    Staying on controversial subjects, farmers were asked if they thought NAMA would succeed or whether it was doomed to fail.

    More than half (55pc) of respondents said NAMA was doomed, while 9.9pc supported the move. Over one-third (34.6pc) of farmers said they did not know.

  48. @The Alchemist

    I agree, GM is not a silver bullet for world hunger. To claim is it, is an over simplification. However, it is a very flexible and powerful plant breeding technology that could (and likely will) help (especially when employed by publicly funded research). However, other technologies will be important also (sometime working in tandem with GM). My concern is twofold:
    1. if GM technology becomes stigmatized for no good reason but for Green dogma you maybe limiting your options
    2. what other technologies in the future could become stigmatized…..certain groups are already attacking certain types of non-GM conventional breeding…

    (see [translated from French]…..
    Anti-GMO protest in front of a Pioneer research center

    AFP-MAIL

    MONTECH (Tarn-et-Garonne, France), 26 août 2009 (AFP) – Around 100 demonstrators according to the police, 150 according to the organizers, protested on Wednesday afternoon in front of a research center of the seed company Pioneer in Montech (tarn-et-Garonne) against the development of “hidden GMOs”.

    “We ask Pioneer to give up commercializing next year an herbicide resistant sunflower named Expressun” explained Michel Metz, one of the leader of the anti-GMO group (Haute-Garonne).

    The car convoy, coming from several regions of France was stopped by the police more than one kilometer away from the Pioneer site. The protestor then walked under a heavy sun to the research center behind a banner “Pioneer, the worst is to come”.

    The anti-GM ask the Ministry of Environment to decide a moratorium on this type of mutagen sunflower awaiting an evaluation, they want the European Union to submit these GMOs to the same transparency and evaluation rules than the transgenic corn.” Explained M. Metz

    Such a moratorium exists currently for the transgenic corn of Monsanto.

    The militants in Montech call “hidden GMO” this mutagen sunflower, which genetic traits are modified by chemical chock or irradiation, but not introduction of a new gene, as it is for transgenic plants.

    According to Jean-Baptiste Libouban, another animator of the anti-GMO movement “it is not known at all what will be the consequences of these hidden GMOs on public health”

    The organizers of the protest have evocated a “stock of luck” as their action coincided with the judgment on Friday in Béziers (Hérault) of two anti-GMO militants, including José Bové, for uprooting of transgenic corn in 2007.

    “The fight against GMO continues, it is entered in a second phase with the struggle against hidden GMOs” they said.

    The protesters ensured they want to stay in front of the Pioneer center until the ministry of environment guarantees them an appointment above this question of hidden GMOs.

    Questioned on the telephone, Jose Bove explained that “the seed breeding
    firms have decided to change their weapon by using new mutagen technologies,
    thus they do not need authorizations: with these clandestine GMO’s they try to
    circumvent the resistence movement against GMOs”. The ministry of Environment
    realises which the firms do not play the game and they should be receptive to
    our arguments”, added the European Green representative.

    Pionner’s legal director for Europe, Jean Donnenwirth, explained that he “is a
    little surprised by the return of this GMO problem since there is a moratorium”.
    He ensured that the accused seed “is not GMO”. According to him, “mutagensis has
    beed used for nearly 100 years in many vegetable and fruit-bearing species,
    there is no reason to question why a sunflower (…) will allow (cause) a major
    reduction in use of weedkiller, next year or in two or three years”. “One
    clearly tries to make a storm in a glass of water” , he concluded.)

  49. @ fergaloh

    and I would like a big yellow sticker on my food saying it was produced using a red tractor (in red font please)….

  50. The Irish generally tend to be conservative and resistant to change.

    There is little interest in in seeking to learn from well-run countries and the gombeenism that has characterised the ongoing confusion about waste management policy, shows that it is still business as usual.

    The oldest incinerator in Vienna is also a tourist attraction and the successful Austrian economy with 3.8% rate of unemployment in July, apparently has a comprehensive waste policy that is regarded as a good model.

    As to GM, I have not argued that it is panacea for world hunger and the recent experience in the wheat growing region of Australia, shows that the issue of drought tolerant seeds is not one for just poor countries.

    However, while the well-fed anti-GM Europeans may not wish to hear about potential benefits in the long-term in challenging agricultural areas facing the risk of climate change, the inconvenient truths should be presented.

    The issue of GM for such regions is no different to the work that was initially done in the 1940’s by Norman Borlaug and his colleagues in Mexico and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

    OMG, I left the cat out of the bag that robber baron John D. Rockefeller was the genesis of the Green Revolution!

  51. Well fed consumers are also unaware that much of what they eat is dependent on cheap energy in the form of fertilizer and mechanical farming – OMG it’s a finite resource

  52. @Alan Matthews
    You’re probably correct in saying there is no desire to ban the use of genetically  modified microbes,  at least those which have long established use, such as those you mention
    However, serious concerns arose regarding the regulation of genetically modified microbes  after a particular case in the late 1980s.
    A Japanese firm, Showa Denko, used a genetically modified microbe”Bacillus Amyloliquefaciens” in a fermentation process to mass produce the food substance L-Tryptophan (which occurs naturally in eggs and other foods) from a substrate of sterilised glucose and anthranillic acid. In 1989, the L-Tryptophan produced by this process was found to produce in some people an incapacitating and sometimes fatal illness, Eosinophilic Myalgia Syndrome.
    Ever since then, the sale of manufactured L- Tryptophan has been banned in  Britain and Ireland and is not approved in the US.  Britain is considering allowing the sale of a quarter of a gram each day.  But you can still buy it over the counter in chemists shops in some European countries including Germany in a daily dose of a gram.   And most people consume around three quarters of a   gram of L-Tryptophan each day friom food
    Needless to say,  L-Tryptophan is no longer produced using genetically modified  microbes. But there is still only circumstantial evidence linking the genetically modified microbes to the outbreak of the disease. After 20 years, it remains an unexplained, worrying, puzzle.

  53. Let me add a couple of comments to the discussion above. I find the discussion on the usefulness of GM technologies in the context of addressing the challenges of hunger and global food supplies fascinating, but I will confine my remarks to the Irish situation as the comment is already too long.

    1. The recent remarks of Ciaran Cuffe imply that the government is currently proposing to introduce a voluntary GM-free label only. While the Programme for Government commitment refers to something on the lines of the German label, it seems clear that the government’s intention is that eligibility for the label would be confined to livestock producers who use non-GM feed. The label may be attractive in giving assurance to Irish and overseas supermarkets who want to market meat and dairy products as GM-free. In principle, supermarkets may be willing to pay a premium for this assurance, although the IFA statement referred to in an earlier post expresses scepticism about this. The question for farmers is whether this premium would be reflected back in the price they receive, and whether it would make it sufficiently attractive to pay the higher price for non-GM feed.

    2. Recall that, at the moment, any GM food must carry a label stating the fact, so by default anything without the label is already known to the customer to be GM-free. The loophole where this is not the case concerns livestock products fed with GM feed. The fact that the private sector has not stepped in to offer this certification suggests that it may not be profitable to do so. However, there may be a case for the government to attempt to introduce such a label. There will be costs involved (monitoring of farms, etc). As the benefits are entirely private and will be appropriated by farmers, there is no good reason for the taxpayer to pay for these costs. Ideally, the government would outsource the certification to an independent standards agency which would charge producers a small fee for the right to use the label.

    3. The idea of banning the use of GM feeds is not on the agenda. In any case, it would not be allowed under current or future EU GM legislation under internal market legislation.

    4. The idea of declaring Ireland a GM-free zone (in the context of restricting or prohibiting the cultivation of GM crops which have been authorised by the EU regulatory approvals process) may become live once the new EU legislation proposed by the Commission has been approved by the Council and European Parliament this autumn. There will be two, quite different, routes for this.

    5. The first is under the guidelines for co-existence, where a country can declare an area GM-free where it can show there is risk of contamination of conventional or organic crops which cannot be addressed by other, less restrictive, means. The problem of co-existence should not be dismissed lightly. One or two earlier posts referred to the right to choose, and the issue here is what measures need to be put in place to ensure that those farmers who wish to produce non-GM crops (whether conventional or organic) can continue to do so. The Department of Agriculture and Food produced an extensive report on what would be required in 2005. This report argued that the problem could be addressed without the need for a complete GM ban.

    6. The second, more far-reaching route, is there a country can prohibit the cultivation of all or particular GMOs “on the basis of grounds relating to the public interest” which must not invoke health and environment arguments that have been considered in the original approvals process. What these public interest reasons might be is not made explicit, but socio-economic reasons might be accepted as legitimate (although they would also have to be in conformity with the EU’s WTO obligations). The Commission proposal, which may be amended before it finally becomes legislation, simply states “[Member States may restrict or ban the cultivation of GMOs] provided that those measures are based on grounds other than those related to the assessment of the adverse effect on health and environment”.

    7. In my original post, I asked whether there was likely to be an economic case to take this step. The Commission is currently undertaking a study of socio-economic factors in the authorisation of GMOs for cultivation and has invited Member States to submit relevant information for this analysis. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government initiated a public consultation earlier this spring (deadline 24 February) to prepare the Irish response to the Commission, but neither this response nor the submissions received have yet been published on the Department’s website.

    8. Currently, none of the GM crops approved for cultivation in the EU are grown in Ireland, thus a ban would have no immediate effect. However, we can expect that, with the number of GM events increasing rapidly, a ban would ultimately restrict Irish farmers’ access to more productive, more valuable or less costly crop varieties. Importantly, as Dan pointed out above, a ban would also prevent the field trials necessary to determine the usefulness of particular GM varieties under Irish conditions.

    9. The economic argument for a ban is that it would enhance the value of Irish crop production. The main crops affected initially would be cereals, and later potentially fruits, vegetables, trees and maybe grasses. We know there is a premium for GM-free maize and soyabean (this the argument used by the IFA against a ban on imports of non-GM feeds, if this were legal which it is not). But if co-existence indeed is possible, individual farmers could opt to continue to grow the non-GM maize varieties and receive the premium without the need for a wholesale ban.

    10. Thus the economic case for a ban on GMs seems to turn on the feasibility of co-existence. If the GM and non-GM varieties can be cultivated and marketed independently, then the protection of non-GM growers can be left to labelling. If co-existence is impossible and one has to opt for one designation or the other, then this decision should be informed by a full analysis of the economic costs and benefits on each side.

  54. @davidc

    nothing here is “an unexplained, worrying, puzzle”….you link to GM is false

    extract from another webpage:
    The claim that a GM microbe was at fault was made without any evidence. It is a sort of urban legend created by those who oppose GM crops in order to try to discredit them. No cause and effect between a GM microbe and the EMS disease has ever been established nor is there a need to find such a link, because another cause of the illness has been discovered. EMS is a dreadful and distressing illness which has caused a number of deaths. It is very important for people considering unusual diets or dietary supplements to get accurate information where there are real hazards. For some years now, an explanation for the illness has been known to medical scientists. EMS is triggered by consumption of large amounts of the dietary supplement L-tryptophan.

    a couple of points
    1. It is known that large doses tryptophan itself cause EMS. Since a report by Smith and Garrett in 2005, medical science has known that genetic modification is irrelevant to EMS, and that the supplement itself—that is to say consuming large amounts of L-tryptophan, whether or not it was made using genetic manipulation, causes health problems. This has been suspected for many years.

    2. EMS is not exclusively associated with GM tryptophan. There are at least two reports in the medical literature of EMS disease caused by L-tryptophan in 1986, well before genetic engineered microbes were used in its manufacture. Tryptophan produced by different companies has also caused EMS.

    3. Contaminants in L-tryptophan do not cause EMS. The search for evidence that contaminants in L-tryptophan produced by genetic engineering are toxic has proved fruitless, and there is no actual evidence that these contaminants are harmful.

    4. A mechanism by which L-tryptophan could cause EMS has been identified. Metabolites formed from L-tryptophan itself inside the body are implicated in causing the condition known as EMS.

  55. @davidc

    I don’t know the specifics of the case you mention. But it seems worth recalling that each and every GM organism placed into the environment has to go through the regulatory process. Where there is evidence of adverse health or environmental effects, it will not be approved or it will be withdrawn. We are only discussing here whether Ireland should ban the cultivation of those GM varieties which have been approved by the EU process.

  56. @Alan Matthews

    lots to say on your post (but its late)…..however one quick simple observation……I agree if a GM-free market exists, why then can’t Irish farmers who want to access this market do so using identify preservation systems. These systems exist in many other jurisdictions where GM crops are grown but where farmers can also, by using Id preservation systems, produce labeled non-GM identify preserved crops.

  57. @Alan Mathews

    I haven’t got through all of your extensive additional comments above, but the first few points and the last bit I read seem to be getting to the nub of some critical issues that need to be considered. thanks for providing all this information so clearly.

  58. @The Alchemist

    “Some varieties of GM seed are deliberately bred/modified not to produce germinators. Once the harvest is in, the seeds are inert. This is a major change in agricultural practice and food production. It would mean that ‘live’ seed could only be bought from MNCs.”

    This is an argument against intellectual property in GM. A good one, IMO.

Comments are closed.