Teagasc is to apply for a license to grow GM blight resistant potatoes in open fields at Oakpark


Teagasc applying to field test GM potatoes as part of EU Research Study

27 February 2012

Teagasc are applying to the EPA for a licence to undertake a series of field studies using GM potatoes resistant to potato late blight disease to determine the potential impact this technology could have on our ecosystems. As part of the 22 partner ‘AMIGA’ consortium that represents 15 EU countries and is funded through the EU’s Framework 7 research programme, Teagasc propose to carry out the research over the next 4 years. Pending license approval, the work will take place at the Teagasc Crops Research Centre in Oak Park, Carlow.

Research confirms that GM late blight resistant potatoes have the potential to significantly reduce the fungicide load on the environment and hence provide an economic advantage to farmers. Teagasc researcher Dr. Ewen Mullins said: “It is not enough to simply look at the benefits without also considering the potential costs. We need to investigate whether there are long term impacts associated with this specific GM crop and critically we need to gauge how the late blight disease itself responds. This is not just a question being asked in Ireland. The same issues are arising across Europe.”

After decimating the Irish potato crop in the 1840s and sparking the Great Famine, the organism (Phytophthora infestans) which causes late blight disease remains a very real threat to Irish potato growers. As new, more aggressive strains of the pathogen have arrived in Ireland over the last 4 years, farmers have had to adapt by increasing the amount of fungicides applied but this is not sustainable; especially in light of new EU laws designed to reduce the amount of chemicals that are applied on our crops.

While the agronomic and economic benefits of using GM to deliver novel control strategies for late blight disease are clear, the intractable debate that has taken place between the proponents and opponents of GM, continues to highlight the public’s wish for further, impartial information on the potential impact of GM crops in Ireland.

In response Teagasc will also conduct an outreach programme with stakeholders and the public through focus groups and open days, to facilitate an inclusive and impartial discussion on the issues that most concern people.

Head of crops research in Teagasc John Spink said: “The field study will be isolated from the on-going conventional potato breeding programme that has been successfully running at Oak Park for over 40 years and with no linkage to the biotech industry on this matter, Teagasc are clear that their work is not about testing the commercial viability of GM potatoes. The GM study is about gauging the environmental impact of growing GM potatoes in Ireland and monitoring how the pathogen, which causes blight, and the ecosystem reacts to GM varieties in the field over several seasons.”


GM trials will destroy our green Agriculture image
Green Party Communications | 29.02.2012

Planting of GM crops by Teagasc would destroy one of the pillars of our Green agricultural image claim Greens.

Poor prices rather than blight resistance is the problem that needs to be tackled

Green Party Agriculture and food spokesperson, Seamus Sheridan today responded to the news that Teagasc intend to apply for a licence from the EPA to plant genetically modified potatoes at their Oak Park Research Centre in County Carlow.

“This is a very serious move taken by Teagasc. The planting of GM crops in an outdoor environment, where neither pollen nor seed can be controlled would end our country’s GM Free status for good, no matter how small the scale. Teagasc should now be asked if the pursuit of a trial on genetically modified crops, is worth ending one of the pillars of our green agricultural image. Fine Gael and Labour also need to be asked if they are ready and willing to give up our GM free status as a country.”

“Today, Ireland is relying heavily on our island’s green image to market our agricultural produce, and Bord Bia are spending heavily abroad to promote this image to consumers. Such a marketing strategy makes sense but we need to be careful to protect its credibility. This image is not based on massive scale industrial farming or the commoditisation of farm produce which goes hand-in-hand with GM crop production. The overwhelming majority of consumers purchasing Irish produce at home and abroad do not want to purchase GM foods. Without a demand for such products, conducting field trials is a futile exercise, as commercialisation will not be successful, regardless of the merits of the particular modification.”

“The introduction of GM potatoes will not solve the current problems of potato farmers or ensure their sustainability. Ask any farmer and they will tell you that poor prices are a far bigger issue than control of blight. Right now potato growers are receiving in the order of 30 cents for a bag of potatoes which would sell to the consumer for 3 euro; just a tenth of the retail price. Multiple retailers must stop using potatoes as a tool in their price wars and respect the huge work and pride that goes into their growing and harvesting. Non-commercial growers must also respect commercial farmers in their area by not leaving unharvested potatoes to become sources of blight. We should continue to research on all aspects of plant protection including blight resistant varieties, but without the use of genetic modification.” concluded Sheridan


GM plant trials to be held by Teagasc – The Irish Times

The Irish Times – Tuesday, February 28, 2012

GM plant trials to be held by Teagasc

DICK AHLSTROM, Science Editor

GENETICALLY MODIFIED crop trials may get under way later this year, which would be the first time in almost 15 years that GM plants would be grown in the open.

Environmental groups have already said they will oppose the move, arguing it will undermine our reputation for clean, green food.

Agricultural research and advisory body Teagasc yesterday stated its intention to seek a licence from the Environmental Protection Agency to plant GM crops at its research centre in Oak Park, Co Carlow.

It was part of an EU-funded initiative to assess any impact on soil ecology caused by GM crops, said Dr Ewen Mullins, a senior research officer in charge of GM crop assessment at Teagasc.

The licence if granted would permit Teagasc to plant genetically modified potatoes that are resistant to blight, he said.

The GM potatoes were developed at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and no biotechnology or GM company was involved, Dr Mullins said.

Open field trials of GM crops sparked controversy in the late 1990s when Teagasc oversaw trials of a modified sugar beet plant developed by Monsanto. At one point protesters raided the fields, chopping down the GM plants.

This would be different, Dr Mullins said. No company is involved and the process would be public and transparent. “It is an issue for Irish agriculture. We have had this prolonged polarised debate with the public stuck in the middle. There will be a fuss over this but we are taking a different approach,” he said.

“I believe it will be a backward step for Ireland to be heading down that road again,” said Oisín Coghlan, director of Friends of the Environment.

“It undermines the opportunity to sell Irish produce as green and GM free.”


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