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Grassroots Pressure Stops Gene-Altered Potatoes from Being Grown in Ireland

  • Compilation of articles from the Gaia Foundation
    By Teresa Anderson gaia@gaianet.org
    The Gaia Foundation, June 15, 2006
    Straight to the Source

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Congratulations are due for a successful campaign in Ireland that led to the withdrawal of BASF's proposed trials of GM potatoes.

The potatoes have been engineered to be resistant to blight.  But according to a poll by the Irish Times, 72% of the public are against the growing of GM crops in Ireland.  A nationwide opposition campaign involving more than 100 food and farming groups, expressed their resistance both in the media and in written objections to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the application for approval of the GM potato was considered.

On the 9th May, the county council of Meath, where the trials were planned, declared Meath to be a GM-Free Zone, which effectively prevented the trials taking place. Later, the EPA granted BASF provisional approval for the trials, but put certain conditions, including obligations for BASF to prevent cross-contamination of neighbouring farms and wildlife, and to pay for monitoring of health and environmental impacts.

BASF felt unable to comply with these conditions, and decided to pull out of the experiment.  They evidently felt extremely resentful about this, judging from comments by the head of BASF, Hans Kast, who also chairs Europa-Bio (a pro-GM lobby group in Europe).   In a bitter outburst,  Kast declared that countries that do not want to grow GM should leave the European Union.  Kast obviously feels that individual countries should not be granted the sovereignty to make their own decisions regarding GM acceptance, or be allowed to demand that biotech companies take responsibility for any harm they may cause.   

Now 172 regions and provinces within the EU have declared themselves GM-Free.   

The successful GM-Free Ireland campaign can serve as an inspiring example to other countries and campaigns who face the challenges of imminent biotech approvals.   

Best wishes,

Teresa

**************************************
1. GM-Free Victory as Trials are Scrapped
Article from the Western Mail.  
Date: 6 June 2006
Steve Dube
http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/farming/farming/tm_objectid=17181364%26method=full%26siteid=50082-name_page.html
2. Support GM or Leave EU, says Biotech Chief
Article from EUPolitix, Belgium.  
Date: 2 June
Daisy Ayliffe
http://www.eupolitix.com/EN/News/200606/a3ccccff-a47e-4b79-8343-792e598681a.htm 3. Irish GMO Potato Experiment Cancelled
Press Release from GM-Free Ireland.  
Date: 9 May 2006
http://www.gmfreeireland.org
4. BASF Drops Plan to Test GM Potatoes in Ireland
Article from Reuters.  
Date: 25 May 2006 http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/36526/story.htm
5. 'Ming' Slams 'Deafening' IFA Silence on GM Trials
Article from Roscommon Herald, Ireland.  
Date: 17 May 2006
6. Organic Trust Welcomes the Decision of Meath County Council to Declare Meath a GM-Free Zone!
Press Release from Organic Trust.  
Date: 17 May 2006
7. From "Food Island" to "Fool's Island": Government Shows Utter Contempt for Consumers, Taxpayers and Farmers
Press Release from IFARM.
Date: 15 May 2006
****************************************

1. GM-Free Victory as Trials are Scrapped

Article from the Western Mail.  
Date: 6 June 2006
Steve Dube
http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/farming/farming/tm_objectid=17181364%26method=full%26siteid=50082-name_page.html

 THE world's largest chemicals company BASF has scrapped controversial plans to conduct trials of genetically modified potatoes in Ireland.

BASF said the decision was taken because of the conditions imposed in the provisional consent given by the Environmental Protection Agency in Ireland last month.

These included requiring the company to reduce the risk of contaminating neighbouring farmland and wildlife, to pay the costs of an independent monitoring of health and environmental impacts and to plant the 450,000 potato plants involved in May.

BASF complained that such conditions had not been imposed for similar experiments in Sweden and the company's chief executive Hans Kast responded with an extraordinary interview saying that countries that did not want GM food "should not be in the EU".

The Irish Government's decision to approve BASF's request for a five- year trial on land in County Meath provoked opposition from more than 100 farm and food industry groups and MPs from all the parties, two motions passed unanimously by Meath County Council, and the threat of further legal action on planning and constitutional grounds.

A poll by the Irish Times showed that 72% of respondents want Ireland kept GM-free.

Hans Kast, who chairs Europa- Bio, the umbrella group for the biotechnology industry in Europe, said they could not accept a situation where countries refused to take safe products.

"They should get out of the EU and say we want to be on our own," he said.

Asked about the campaign in Wales, he said he had not heard that the people of Wales did not want GM food.

"Would Wales be allowed to say we don't want to have cars?" he asked.

Dr Brian John of the GM Free Wales campaign group said Dr Kast was talking nonsense.

"The logic is so convoluted and contorted I don't know what he is trying to say," said Dr John.

"It's just garbled rubbish about the EU, but probably he's a bit miffed that they have been nasty to him in Ireland."

GM-free Ireland Network spokesperson Michael O'Callaghan said cancellation of the potato trials was a victory for European farmers who "refuse to surrender ownership of their seeds and crops".

He said the World Trade Organisation's Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement enables corporate owners of GM crop patents to claim ownership of contaminated farmers' produce.

Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser faced a million-dollar patent- infringement lawsuit from Monsanto after his crops became contaminated with its GM rapeseed in 1996.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that he no longer owned his seeds and crops because they contained the patented GM genes.

Last month Mr Schmeiser filed a complaint against the government of Canada with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights alleging violation of consumers' and farmers' rights and attempts to force GM terminator seeds - modified to be sterile and prevent farmers from saving and replanting seeds - on the rest of the world.

Mr O'Callaghan said the next step was for the Irish Government to join the European campaign for EC legislation that recognises the right of member states and regions to prohibit the release of GM seeds, crops, trees, fish and livestock.

"The time has come for the Irish Government and EC to stop surrendering our sovereignty and food security to the WTO," he said.

A total of 172 EU regions and provinces have now declared themselves GM Free zones, or - like Wales - passed policies to restrict GM crops.

 *************************************

2. Support GM or Leave EU, says Biotech Chief

Article from EUPolitix, Belgium.  
Date: 2 June
Daisy Ayliffe
http://www.eupolitix.com/EN/News/200606/a3ccccff-a47e-4b79-8343-792e598681a1.htm

If a European member state does not want to grow GM crops it should leave the EU, the CEO of plant science group BASF has declared.

Dr Hans Kast says individual states should not be allowed to block GM seeds.

"If countries do not want to grow GM, then they should not be in the EU. They should get out of the EU and say we want to be on our own," Kast said in an interview with this website.

"If 25 countries agree to give a certain authority to Brussels and entrust them to take a decision then it should not be up to countries to prevent that. There should be an authority in between, so that people with a bad gut feeling are not able to simply block a process."

The European approval process for GM seeds has come under attack from both sides of the agricultural impassioned debate.

Environmentalists insist the European commission is approving seeds by the back door - against the wishes of member states such as Greece and Austria.

But Dr Kast believes Europe needs such an authority to take the final decision on GM and wipe out indecision.

"We do need to have a final authority in Europe - otherwise the approval processes drags on forever. For industry, having an approval process that runs on and on is simply not viable," he says.

Kast warns that the protracted process is allowing US farmers to overtake their European counterparts.

"There is definitely a risk that the EU will lose out competitively. If farmers in the Americas have better technology, they can out-compete European farmers. That is why the European farmers need to get themselves on a level playing field and embrace biotechnology."

For Kast, offering GM consumers is about offering greater choice.

"The questions around coexistence are questions of consumer choice," he says.

"Whether we are talking about a GM crop or a conventional crop, both are now considered safe. So it is only a question of whether you want to offer the consumer choice."

But the BASF chief does not accept that organic farmers could lose their choice to stay GM free if biotech seeds are grown in close proximity to their land.

"I am not aware of any cases of organic farmers who said they have had their fields contaminated," he says.

"If an organic farmer wants to grow organic, he can. He simply needs to take care that he has sufficient distance from the other fields."

 ***************************************

 3. Irish GMO Potato Experiment Cancelled

Press Release from GM-Free Ireland. 
Date: 9 May 2006
http://www.gmfreeireland.org

Co. Council declares Meath a GMO-free zone BASF forced to cancel GMO experiment Press conference at European Commission Office 10am Wednesday

Meath County Council last night unanimously passed two motions that are widely expected to force the world's largest chemicals company BASF to abandon a controversial experiment with patented genetically modified (GMO) potatoes which it hoped to launch in the area this week.

In January, the German company BASF Plant Science GmbH notified Ireland's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of its plans to start a five-year experiment with 450,000 genetically modified potatoes on a farm near Summerhill, Co. Meath. Following a public consultation process and a series of probing questions by EPA staff, the regulatory body approved the GMO experiment last Friday subject to BASF agreeing to 10 conditions, including a mandatory 4 year post-release monitoring period for environmental health risks.

At an emergency community meeting in Navan on Friday night, the EPA's provisional go-ahead was criticized as a highly controversial and premature decision that ignored the health and environmental risks warnings of independent GM scientific experts, made in the face of total opposition from stakeholders across the country. Local farmers said the release of patented GMO crops could expose them to cross-contamination, mandatory GM labeling, loss of market share, demands for patent royalties, patent infringement lawsuits, and possible loss of ownership of their crops if they became infected with the patented GMO genes. Jim Cosgrave, a farmer from Enfield, said the locals were also extremely concerned about the impact on property values. "Who would want to buy or rent contaminated farmland=3F" he said. An Irish Times news poll yesterday found that 72 per cent of respondents oppose GM crop trials in Ireland.

The Council's first motion declares Meath a GMO-free zone. This makes Meath the sixth county on the island to prohibit GMO seeds and crops, along with Cavan, Clare, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Roscommon, and the towns of Galway, Navan, Newry and Clonakilty. Meath benefits from some of the most fertile soils in Ireland and is home to the country's largest potato growers. Its official GMO-free status has symbolic importance because Co. Meath (from the Gaelic word "Midhe" which means "centre") was the ancient royal county of Ireland during the Neolithic and Celtic periods and the seat of the country's High Kings at the Hill of Tara.

The Council's second motion calls on the EPA to not allow the experimental growing of any GMO seeds or crops in Ireland.

Both motions were tabled by Green Party Councillor Tom Kelly. Councillors said that the EPA's decision would produce experimental transgenic potatoes that could not be placed on the market either as animal feed or food, and that the EPA and BASF failed to apply for the planning permission that is consequently required by law for re-zoning the farmland from agricultural to development use. They also said the legal requirement imposed by the EPA for BASF to protect the site with a high-security electrical fence does not conform with normal agricultural practice under Section 5 of the Planning Act.

Frank Corcoran, Chairman of An Taisce - the National Trust for Ireland, said the Meath Co. Council decisions will trigger a lengthy legal procedure that will effectively prevent the release of GMO crops in Meath for the foreseeable future.

 Common sense and local democracy

Irish whiskey and Guinness were flowing last night as farmers, food producers, chefs and consumers celebrated the decision as a victory for common sense and local democracy. Michael O'Callaghan, co-ordinator of the GM-free Ireland Network which lobbied the Meath Co. Council extensively in advance of the EPA decision, said he was thrilled the Local Authority has taken responsibility to protect the County from an irreversible invasion of GM crops for which there is no market in Europe.

GMO crops are banned or restricted by six EU governments, and thousands of local areas across Europe.

Michael O'Callaghan said "Meath Co. Council has shown the wisdom of the subsidiarity principle, whereby political decisions on GM farming are best taken democratically at the local level by the farmers and citizens who will be affected by them, rather than by unaccountable bureaucrats in Dublin, the European Commission in Brussels, and the WTO in Geneva. My grandfather was a member of the first D=E1il (Irish Government) which won independence and self-determination for the Irish people; he would be furious at our current government's policy to introduce patented GMO seeds and crops -- a new form of corporate biological colonialism that would be be impossible to reverse".

Commenting from Berlin on Meath Co. Council's decision, Benedikt Haerlin, who organises the annual European GMO-free Regions conference, said the EC's policy to force member states and regions to accept contamination of agricultural seeds and crops by GMOs is fundamentally and legally flawed. "We welcome Co. Meath's initative which is backed by 175 regions and 3,500 local authorities in 22 EU member states" he said.

 Call for Ireland to conserve its GMO-free status

The GM-free Ireland Network will host a press conference at the European Commission Office in Dublin at 10 am tomorrow (Wednesday 10 May), kicking off a series of European Day debates in the D=E1il, including a speech by EC Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Mariann =46ischer-Boel.

Politicians at the press conference will call for the whole island of Ireland to be declared a GMO-free biosphere reserve for the food security of other EU member states, and demand EU legislation that recognises the democratic right of member states and regions to prohibit GMO seeds and crops if they choose to do so.

Confirmed speakers include Kathy Sinnott MEP (Independent), Marian Harkin MEP (Independent), Green Party leader Trevor Sargent TD, Mary Upton TD (Labour Party spokesperson on Agriculture and Food), Michael Mulcahy TD (Fianna F=E1il - Government Convener on the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs and former Lord Mayor of Dublin), Eddie Punch (General Secretary of the Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers Association), and Michael O'Callaghan of GM-free Ireland. Senator James Bannon (Fine Gael Spokesperson on Environment, Local Government and Heritage in the Upper House and General Secretary of the Local Authority Members Association) may also attend.

 ENDS

 Attribution: Michael O'Callaghan Co-ordinator, GM-free Ireland Network tel + 353 (0)404 43885 mobile + 353 (0)87 799 4761 email: mail@gmfreeireland.org web: www.gmfreeireland.org

 ***************************************

4. BASF Drops Plan to Test GM Potatoes in Ireland

Article from Reuters. 
Date: 25 May 2006 http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/36526/story.htm

 DUBLIN - German chemicals firm BASF has decided against planting genetically modified potato crops in Ireland this year, the country's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Wednesday.

Ireland, Europe's biggest per capita consumer of potatoes, gave the go-ahead earlier this month for BASF to grow varieties of the crop modified with improved resistance to late potato blight, which brought famine to Ireland in the 19th century.

"We've just been told they they are not going to go ahead this year," a spokeswoman for the EPA, which awarded the licence, said.

BASF Plant Science said in a statement that the EPA's consent had contained a number of conditions and that it had been looking for clarification in certain areas.

"Due to the limited time restrictions of the planting season, it has been decided not to conduct the field trials in 2006," the company said.

Having tested blight-resistant potatoes in Sweden in 2005, it would perform field trials in Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany this year, BASF's plant biotechnology unit added.

Previous trials of GM foods in Ireland have been disrupted by environmentalists.

Ireland's Green Party called on the the EPA to reverse its decision to allow GM trials.

"The EPA...must not give in to any demands from BASF," Green Party Leader Trevor Sargent said in a statement.

"Now is the opportunity to ensure that Ireland remains a GM-free producing island. Ireland's traditional GM-free food status is a key selling point for Irish food exports and must be protected."

The EPA said the licence would remain in place but would not be altered in any way.

"The licence is set now," the spokeswoman said.

Blight-resistant GM potatoes were first developed in 2003 after scientists discovered a wild potato in Mexico that is naturally resistant to the disease. The field trials were to be have been carried out at a one hectare site in County Meath.

The licence gave BASF the right to conduct trials for five years from 2006 to 2010, with monitoring continuing until 2014.

REUTERS NEWS SERVICE

***************************************

5. 'Ming' Slams 'Deafening' IFA Silence on GM Trials

Article from Roscommon Herald, Ireland. 
Date: 17 May 2006

The silence from the IFA over the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to grant permission for GM potato trials in Co Meath has been described as Odeafening' by a Castlerea independent councillor.

This week Cllr Luke 'Ming' Flanagan described the decision as "one of the most significant in Irish farming history", but it did not even warrant a mention on the IFA website. "This does not come as a surprise to me but it runs contrary to the views of Roscommon members of the IFA, if a meeting which took place on March 1st in the Abbey Hotel, is anything to go by. This meeting involved the showing of a documentary on GM foods. After the documentary was shown a discussion ensued on the topic. Members of the farming community spoke about their opposition to such technology. To put it simply there was not a dissenting voice in the room. Among those who spoke against the planting of GM crops in Ireland were local members of the IFA," he said.

"The EPA has now made its decision and we have silence from the IFA. If the IFA do not wish to represent the views of their members then they might as well not exist," said the councillor.

"The decision which was taken by the EPA is bad for Irish Farming. This decision goes against the opinions of 80% of the citizens of the European Union. The public, in opinions polls, have consistently made it clear that they do not want these foods. Up until now we could market our food to these people on the basis that it was produced in a GM free environment. This valuable marketing tool will now be denied to us in return for nothing.

"It is a continuation of our participation in a race to the bottom in food production.

"Ireland does not have a future in cheap mass produced patented food. Its future is in top quality food at the high end of the value chain. When the value of our food starts to drop in comparison with that of countries who have decided to remain GM free we will then hear the IFA complaining about how farmers in Ireland are not getting a fair price for their food. Well when that day comes I hope that both the farmers and consumers of this country remember whose inaction got us into the fix in the first place. Now is the time for the IFA to do something about it. It is time for them to be proactive rather than reactive.

"If not then it is time for farmers to ask some serious questions about who they mandate to represent their views," concluded Cllr Flanagan.

***************************

6. Organic Trust Welcomes the Decision of Meath County Council to Declare Meath a GM-Free Zone!

Press Release from Organic Trust. 
Date: 17 May 2006

The Organic Trust welcomes Meath County Council's decision to declare Meath a GM Free zone. This decision - coupled with their referral of the proposed field trials of the BASF GM potatoes to An Bord Pleanala - is encouraging to people and organisations like the Organic Trust who are fighting the onslaught from the biotech giants on an ongoing basis.

The Organic Trust is disappointed that the points raised in their extensive submission to the EPA (forwarded on 20.02.2006) outlining in detail their objections to the proposed trials have fallen on deaf ears. Helen Scully from the Organic Trust stated "To date we have received no detailed response from the EPA regarding the points raised in the formal objection to these trials lodged by the Organic Trust Limited. In our submission we set out in explicit terms our concerns if the proposed trials were given the go-ahead, however, it would appear that our concerns were not considered of sufficient substance to warrant the EPA denying permission for such trials to take place in Ireland. The Organic Trust fully recognises the very limited remit of the EPA in terms of the areas of concern on which they are permitted to base their decisions and sympathises with the EPA in this regard (perhaps as a secondary issue this is something which needs to be seriously addressed!), nonetheless their decision to approve these trials does represent very worrying short-term thinking - what does not appear to have been taken on board is that we DO NOT want and do not need GM in Ireland . In addition, the decision-making mechanisms in the EPA currently appear as undemocratic and authoritarian with no room to consider in detail the reasoned objections put forward by the Organic Trust".

"The Organic Trust will continue to fight for transparency in the decision making processes of the EPA and will continue to oppose the testing of this untried, unwanted technology" she stated. "GM food poses as great a threat to the future of organic production in Ireland as Avian Flu poses for poultry production or Foot and Mouth posed for meat in the past - the major difference being the GM menace could be stopped completely and immediately if we simply have the courage of our convictions and stand up to the biotech giants". The Organic Trust calls on the Minister for Agriculture Mary Coughlan to "step up and stop these trials now; once such GM releases take place in the Irish countryside, the damage to the image of Ireland as a wholesome, untainted environment for food production will be shattered forever and the consequences for Irish food producers are potentially disastrous."

Notes to Editors:

1) The Organic Trust Limited is an Irish approved organic inspection and certification organisation and operates on a 32 county basis; the Organic Trust are also approved by the EU and by DEFRA (UK) as an organic inspection and certification agency.

2) The Organic Trust Limited certifies the full remit of organic foods - from on-farm production of organic raw materials such as organic meat, poultry, tillage and horticultural products to a vast range of processed organically certified foodstuffs and other products.

***********************************

7. From "Food Island" to "Fool's Island": Government Shows Utter Contempt for Consumers, Taxpayers and Farmers

Press Release from IFARM.
Date: 15 May 2006

John Heney of IFARM - the Irish farm and rural movement - has accused the Government of treating Irish consumers, taxpayers and farmers like fools by choosing to completely ignore the content of a high profile policy document on the future of farming which it launched recently.

Responding to the Governments "deafening silence" on the EPA's decision to OK the growing of GM potatoes in Co Meath, Mr Heney pointed out that it is barely two months since the Government launched their much-heralded Agrivision 2015 Action Plan to save Irish farming.

In this long-awaited document the Minister for Agriculture Mary Coughlan proudly declared that the future of Irish farming lay in "delivering high quality nutritious food - to well informed consumers". However, in what amounts to a cynical U turn, the Government has decided to pander to the interests of big business and totally ignore the wishes of these same "well informed consumers", 80% of whom consistently say they do not want GM food on their plates.

Mr Heney went on to say "It is becoming obvious that the Agrivision 2015 Action Plan along with all of the others plans before it, is little more than a very expensive smokescreen put in place to appease an increasingly concerned public. These plans, which have been prepared at huge cost to the taxpayers, are simply an effort to hide the reality of the accelerating decline in farming and rural areas. It is painfully clear that when there is a choice to be made between rural Ireland and the interests and wishes of multinational companies, the government will always choose the multinational's 30 pieces of silver"

Rural Ireland has suffered enough deceit and hypocrisy over the years and certainly has no need for enemies if this is what our current government sees as its vision for the future of farming in Ireland, concluded Mr Heney.

ENDS.

For further information contact: John Heney at 085 103 9950
http://www.irishfarmandruralmovement.com/

Note to editor:

IFARM supports the principles of rurality, rural values and rural lifestyles and believes that these values should be protected from the selfish interest of powerful external forces.



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