GMO’s Are Back on the Agenda

Dun Laoghaire Informer
Article by Katie Marsh, Sonairte

And the Environmental Protection Agency is also looking for some feedback from the public because the planting of gentically modified organisms (GMOs) is back on the agenda.

Wikipedia tells me that a genetically modified organism is one whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques, generally know as reconbinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes.

You really wanted to know that didn’t you? And to be honest it would take me half an hour with illustrations to really explain it.  So let’s just say that to make a GMO plant you take bits of a plant, mix it up with bits of either another plant or even an animal and you get yourself a new plant that does something you want.

A giant unmonitored field trial

The idea can be exciting, scary or boring – it just depends how you view it.  Some say “yuck!” and others say “wow, I want it.” The technology is very new – barely thirty years old – and at the moment a huge international experiment is going on.

Gm Plants are being grown in open fields all around the world and the crops that result are being fed to millions of humans and animals – yes, everyone reading this is taking part in a giant unmonitored field trial. Here in Europe very few crops are licensed for growing, and food made from unprocessed genetically modified food plants can’t be fed to human beings.  But in Ireland the only meat that hasn’t been raised on GM grain and soya is organic – organic standards ban GM – so we are all taking part in this unofficial trial.

Teagasc want to experiment

And now Teagasc wants to experiment on the wildlife of Ireland as well, LAst week, they applied to the Environmental protection Agency for a license to grow genetically modified potatoes at Oak Park Research Station so they can see what effect, if any, growing them has on the creatures in the soil, compared to conventionally bred ones.  The difference is that the conventionally bred ones get regularly sprayed with fungicide to prevent potato blight and these GM potatoes are blight resistant so they won’t need to be sprayed.

Now I’m all for potatoes that don’t need to be sprayed with fungicide, whether it is the traditional copper based fungicides permitted to organic growers or the rather nastier chemicals used in conventional growing –  personally I don’t use sprays at all when I grow potatoes because I don’t want either kind in my garden.

But I don’t need GM potatoes to avoid blight.  There are some really good varieties on the market already – you can buy the Sarpo varieties anywhere you can get seed potatoes – and there are others like Setanta out there.  A really good tasty newcomer is called Tibet because that’s where its parents came from.

GMO problems

I’m still trying to get the technical details on this latest offering but so far GM crops have led to the following problems.

Loss of genetic diversity – everyone grows exactly the same variety and all the others die out so there is nowhere to get plants with new genes to cross back in if a problem arises – in the past this has come close to wiping out pineapples, bananas and maize and many wild animals.  You need a big gene pool for survival.

Then there’s allergies – noticed how food allergies have increased in recent years? There’s a school of thought that puts it down to the altered gene structures of some basic foods – such as maize and soya.  Next time you are in a supermarket try to find a packaged food that doesn’t include those two.   And we don’t actually know what, if any, changes it makes when we give GM feed to meat animals.

The Food Safety Authority says GM food is “substantially equivalent” which is another way of saying “we don’t actually know how to test”. There are a whole host of issues around the topic and I don’t have space for them here.  Can I ask you to Google no2gm or GM-free Ireland and find out more?



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