The GM Spud Issue

There is now a major controversy in Ireland involving a GM potato field trial.

In late February 2012 Teagasc applied to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a licence to grow GM potatoes in a field trial in Carlow. The public had until 27 March to submit ‘representations’ about the field trial;  83  were received during that time, all of which objected to the trial going ahead.

EPA was obliged under  the relevant GM legislation (SI 500 of 2003) to respond to Teagasc within 90 days, but each time EPA asked for additional information from Teagsc, the clock stopped ticking until a response was received. On 27 July 2012 EPA announced its decision to grant the licence (consent to the licence) and attached 8 conditions. In an accompanying press release EPA stated the public had a three-month period in which to challenge that decision by judicial review.

On 29 August I found out the the GM spuds had been planted by Teagasc, ie, within the legal challenge period. Both EPA and Teagasc would have been aware that at least one legal challenge was likely.

Teagasc’s action is thumbing its nose at the rights of Irish citizens to challenge the EPA decision. Even if there has been yet another gaffe in Irish law drafting, and there isn’t an instruction in the law specifying a period for judicial review within which the activity under licence must not proceed, it seems to me that Teagasc and its public servants, and the EPA and its public servants have a responsiblity to the public interest.

There are significant issues about this GM potato trial and the way the licencing process was carried out that are highly questionable. However, these cannot be discussed here right now because of the planned legal challenge. Other signifiant issues include:

Risk

GM technology is proven to have unpredictable effects on its surrounding biosphere. In other words, GM is a risk technology. These risks are the reason that GM plants are regulated.

Blight & Resistance

The late potato blight has a deep cultural resonance with Irish people because of its role in The Great Famine in the 1860s. However that blight’s acquired ability to reproduce sexually means it can now rapidly mutate in the face of changed conditions. This means that resistance is likely to be short lived, a situation which makes a nonsense of using a GM potato as a solution, if only because of the risky nature of GM technology.

Risk & research

Genetically manipulated Potato plant at Teagasc soon after planting

If the problem Teagasc wishes to address concerns late potato blight for commercial potato producers in Ireland, its approach is ridiculously simplistic. What phases of problem analysis or exploration of other options has Teagasc done? No evidence is available of any. Instead Teagasc has plumped for a GM blight resistant potato, knowing full well that GM is a risky technology. A risky solution is the very last option that should be considered – not the first.

Aarhus Rights Matters

On 13-14 August I applied, as a European citizen, for a Not Prohibitively Expensive (NPE) Order at the High Court in order to legally challenge the EPA GM potato decision. It was refused by Judge Bermingham. On 28 August ,10 other European citizens and an NGO separately applied for NPE Orders and were refused by Judge Hogan. These refusals are a barrier to these 12 applicants’ access to justice as guaranteed under the Aarhus Convention, and to which protection we as EU citizens have a right.