Ireland: Greens’ Departure Allows Irish Government to Embrace GM Crops
- Guardian (UK), Feb 10, 2011
The collapse of its coalition with the Green Party has given Fianna Fáil the freedom to ditch Ireland’s anti-GM stance
Ireland will now support EU proposals to allow the marketing of GM food for human consumption and animal feed.
Against the background of one of the most divisive and stormy parliamentary election campaigns in Ireland’s history, the outgoing government has made a significant move on GM crops.
Minister for agriculture, Brendan Smith from the ruling Fianna Fáil party, confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that Ireland has changed its voting position and will now support a number of EU Commission proposals designed to allow the marketing of GM food for human consumption, animal feed and food ingredients.
The move, although it has been welcomed in many quarters, will no doubt cause controversy, not least in the ranks of the ruling party’s former coalition allies the Green Party, whose departure from government triggered the announcement of a general election to be held on 25 February.
Until now, the GM issue has been absent from the debate over who should form the next government. Understandably, voters have been more worried about their jobs and the future of Ireland’s economy than the details of EU policy and rhetoric from the pro- and anti-GM lobbies.
However, this is not the first time that the GM issue has affected this coalition government. In 2009, the Green Party/Fianna Fáil government had to renegotiate their terms of agreement and their programme, leading to a major concession to the Greens: the promise to make Ireland a “GM-Free Zone”.
Although much trumpeted by the Greens at the time, the policy has never become a reality. Neither has the promise to introduce a “GM-Free” logo modelled on the German “Ohne Gentechnik” logo.
In a short response on Twitter, Green Party chairman and senator Dan Boyle said the U-turn had shown “what Fianna Fáil really thinks of consumer fears” and that, in government, the Green Party “had stopped this”.
Meanwhile, the Green Party’s agriculture spokesperson Trevor Sargent said the party was “alarmed” by the move and that “in government, the Green Party ensured that Ireland abstained on this vote”. Calling the move a backward step, Sargent said that the issue was about “consumer choice” and that the decision “damages the quality image of Irish food produce”.
Agriculture minister Brendan Smith explained this week that “it has been a matter of great concern to Ireland, in recent years, that there has been a severe disruption to trade of animal feed, caused by the delays in the authorisation, by the EU, of GM varieties which have already been approved in the exporting countries.”
According to Smith, the difficulty of importing certified GM-free animal feed (90% of which comes from North and South America) has meant the shortfall has had to be made up by more expensive feed, which puts Irish meat producers at a serious disadvantage. The Irish Farmers’ Association says this disadvantage means a financial penalty of as much as ¤15 (£13) on every pig produced.
The greens dispute this argument, asserting that “as cattle eat grass most of the year, this small premium would represent a tiny price differential for the customer (eg 2c on a Sunday roast)”. That’s fine, I guess, if you’re eating beef and not pork on a Sunday.
Ireland’s support for the EU Commission proposals was confirmed at a meeting of the EU Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health in Brussels on Tuesday.
GM-Free Ireland had called for Smith to vote against the proposals saying they would “undermine our government’s agreed GM-free policy”. The Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association labelled the move “short-sighted” and argued that the decision did not reflect the wishes of the people. Clearly, though, with the greens now out of government, the remaining Fianna Fáil ministers were free to make decisions without the input of their former partners.
The EU proposal seeks to remove the “zero tolerance” policy towards GM components of animal feed and allow trace amounts - up to 0.1% - to be imported.
It will be interesting to see whether one of the final decisions of the outgoing administration will lead to GM becoming an issue in this election. One suspects not, but it may at least allow the public to hear from each political party where they stand in the GM debate.
Eoin Lettice is a lecturer in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at University College Cork, Ireland. He writes the Communicate Science blog and on Friday will give a talk in Cork Trust Me, I’m A Scientist: Genetically Modified (GM) Crops and the Public Perception of Science