GM-free Ireland Network co-ordinator Michael O’Callaghan accused Environment Minister Dick Roche of sabotaging Ireland’s farming future, following his failure to oppose the importation of Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) GT73 rapeseed for use as animal feed and industrial processing throughout the EU at a Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday. The patented rapeseed is modified to withstand Monsanto’s RoundUp weedkiller. Mr. O’Callaghan said “the Minister’s evident lack of knowledge of the environmental and health risks of this GMO animal feed will jeopardise the economic future of Irish farmers.”
Although it is defined as animal feed, GT73 is far more dangerous than other GM animal feeds because it would be imported as living GMO seed which can spread rapidly and contaminate most farms within a few years of its introduction. In September, scientists from the US Environmental Protection Agency discovered that wind-blown pollen from GMO plants contaminated other plants 21km away. A study by the Institute of Science in Society found that 95% of certified seed stock in western Canada was polluted with RoundUp tolerant GM genes and 52% exceeded the allowable contamination of certified seed (see note below.)
The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association’s Rural Development Chairman John Heney said “there is clear and growing evidence that the deployment of GM oilseed rape will lead to widespread contamination of conventional crops.” Mr Heney pointed out that the democratic legitimacy of EU GM policy was at risk of falling into disrepute because GM products are being gradually pushed through even though a majority of EU member states and citizens oppose them.
EU member states failed to obtain a qualified majority (QM) for or against the GMO rapeseed when they voted on it on 16 June, when 12 member states voted against it, 9 for, with 4 abstentions including Ireland. The second vote scheduled for the Council of Environment Ministers meeting on Monday was cancelled because the member states were even more opposed this time around.
Thirteen EU member states were opposed (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, and Poland). Six member states were in favour (Finland, France, Portugal, Slovakia,
Sweden and the Netherlands). Six member states abstained (Ireland, Slovenia, Spain, Germany, Britain and
the Czech Republic).
This is the eighth time in a row where Ireland has failed to vote against a GM product, thus contributing to the lack of a qualified majority either for or against. Under the EU’s complex decision-making process, since the member states have failed to decide at ministerial level, the final decision will now be made by the Commission, probably in January, and the Commission is likely to rubberstamp an authorisation under pressure from the World Trade Organisation.
If this happens, millions of GMO rape seeds could be imported to Ireland, unloaded in harbours, and transported by rail and road to animal feed compounders around the country. The inevitable spillage along the way would thus result in the de facto release of GM oilseed rape crops without the required government authorisation or the consent of the affected farmers and consumers.
The resulting contamination of Irish farms would create an epidemic of RoundUp-resistant Superweeds, increase the use of weedkillers, threaten consumers’ health, wipe out organic farmers, prevent farmers from planting their own seed, require their crops to carry a GM label and exclude Irish farm produce from the growing market for the safe GM-free food which the majority EU retailers and consumers demand.
In a letter urging Dick Roche to vote against the GT73 rapeseed last week, ICSA Rural Development Chairman John Heney wrote: “Ireland cannot continue to sit on the fence, as it has done so far. We need to send out a signal that Ireland wishes to be seen as the natural food island. We cannot stand idly by while GM technology creeps in though the back door, or via this bizarre loophole in the decision making process of the EU.”
Mr. Heney pointed out that the ICSA represents 10,000 cattle and sheep farmers who are concerned at the apparent push towards getting GM technology into place in European agriculture by can what can only be described as back door means. He said “This is a matter of vital concern for the Irish agri-food sector because it is part of a bigger picture that will remove our
ability to remain GM free. ICSA believes that Ireland should do everything in its power to remain GM free as part of a strategy to develop our clean, green image and to promote Ireland as the natural food island. It is clear that a significant majority of European consumers do not want GM foods and as an exporting nation we cannot ignore this. Italy, for instance, which is potentially the most lucrative market for Irish beef, is very committed to a non-GM food supply and we need to have regard to this.”
He went on to say that Irish farmers are concerned about further damage to the image of our produce. “Unfortunately, when the image of a product is damaged, it is the primary producer who takes most of the pain – I need hardly explain what the consequences of BSE were to beef prices. In a decoupled environment, we cannot ignore consumer concerns in EU member states where we hope to do business and to expand our share of the market.”
According to the Cavan Leitirim Environmental Awareness Network spokesperson Christine Heine, Irish farmers who want to keep their livestock GM-free already have difficulty sourcing GM-free animal feed. “There is no choice regarding animal feeds at the moment, as requested by the EU Commission’s guidelines for coexistence. Ireland is not self-sufficient in cereals and other crops, and many farmers are forced, often without being properly informed, to use GM animal feeds against their wish. EU consumers are opposed to GMOs, and Ireland would do well, with the amount of meat and milk it exports, to offer GM-free produce.” Ms. Heine also said that the introduction of GM crops in Ireland will result in administrative and practical difficulties of separation, testing and handling, liability and insurance issues. All these would put unduly burdens on farmers and be not economically viable.
In a letter to the Department of Agriculture last week, An tIonad Glas Organic College warned that organic farmers may hold the Department liable for future loss of their organic symbol through GM contamination. The GM-free Ireland Network represents over 21,000 farmers, food producers and consumers who favour keeping Ireland GM-free.