Declaring Ireland a GMO-free zone (27/7/2007)

NOTE: useful info below on the many EU retailers who exclude or restrict meat and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM ingredients.


Declaring Ireland a GMO-free zone

The Irish Examiner (Farm Supplement cover story), 26 July 2007 By Michael O'Callaghan, Co-ordinator, GM-free Ireland Network (www.gmfreeireland.org)

OUR government's policy "to declare the whole island of Ireland a GMO-free zone" aims to prohibit the release of live GM seeds, crops, livestock, trees, insects, crustaceans and fish on this island. (The policy does not apply to the use of GMO bacteria for the production of pharmaceutical products in sealed vats in secure laboratories.) There is no plan to prohibit GM animal feed. The government is, however, encouraging farmers to phase out its use on a voluntary basis, in response to rapidly growing EU market demand for meat, poultry and dairy produce from livestock fed on certified non-GMO feedstuffs.

Because of our geographical isolation from potential contamination by wind-borne GM pollen, declaring this island off limits to GM crops will clearly position Irish farm produce as the most credible, safe GM-free food brand in Europe. If implemented (in collaboration with the Northern Ireland Assembly), this will boost the safety, quality, reputation and economic value of Irish food in the lucrative EU export markets. It will provide a competitive advantage to Irish farmers and food producers for generations to come.

Widely supported

The policy is supported by TDs, senators and MEPs from all the political parties, and by over 130 organisational members of the GM-free Ireland Network including the Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers Association, the National Beef Association (NI), all the organic certification bodies, the Irish Doctors Environmental Association, the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Euro-Toques Ireland (representing our 300 leading chefs), the Food Writers Guild, Slow Food Ireland, etc.

It is also supported by the county councils of Cavan, Clare, Fermanagh, Kildare, Kerry, Meath, Roscommon, Monaghan, and Westmeath), the District of Newry and Mourne in counties Armagh and Down, and the towns of Bantry, Bray, Clonakilty, Derry, Galway City, Letterkenny, and Navan), representing over one million citizens on both sides of the border whose elected representatives have declared these local areas off-limits to GM crops.

No market for GM food in Europe

Ireland exports 90% of the food produced here, mostly to European countries which have a near-total market refusal of any food which carries the GM label (required by EU law if it contains or is derived from 0.9% or more of GM ingredients). This market refusal is now rapidly spreading to also exclude meat, poultry and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM ingredients (even though such produce does not yet require a GM label).

In January 2005, Greenpeace published the landmark report, "No market for GM labelled food in Europe", which details a virtual shut-down of the EU market for GM-labelled food. Europe's top 30 retailers and top 30 food and drink producers had by then already declared policies and non-GM commitments which revealed a massive international food and beverage industry rejection of GM produce. This cut across the industry from food and drink manufacturers to retailers, and includes everything from snacks and ready meals to pet food and beer. The combined total food and drink sales of the 49 companies with a stated non-GM policy in their main market or throughout the EU (27 retailers and 22 food and drink producers) amounted to 646 billion, more than 60% of the total 1,069 billion EU food and drink sales in 2005.

Since then, Consumers International has called for a ban on all GM foods, and an EuroBarometer survey found that "Overall Europeans think that GM food should not be encouraged; GM food is widely seen as not being useful, as morally unacceptable and as a risk for society". Most leading EU retailers are now extending their GM bans to gradually exclude meat and dairy produce from GM-fed animals.

Health risks

There is growing scientific evidence linking GM animal feed and food to deaths and disease in laboratory animals, livestock and the human population. Speaking at the launch of his book "Genetic Roulette: the documented health risks of GM food" at a briefing on food safety and GMOs at the EU Parliament office in Dublin recently, the author Jeffrey M. Smith, described the evidence of health risks as "irrefutable", including new diseases, allergies, inflammatory responses, antibiotic resistance, reduced immunity, and pre-cancerous growths. Transgenic DNA in food can survive digestion and activate inside your body, potentially turning you into a living pesticide factory. A leaked European Commission document admits, "there is no unique, absolute, scientific cut-off threshold available to decide whether a GM product is safe or not".

But the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) claims GM animal feed and GM foods are safe, although it is being challenged for routinely approving such products based on risk assessments provided to it by the companies it is paid to regulate, for not making the relevant data available for independent scientific scrutiny, and for failing to address the concerns of member states. In April 2006, the European Commission issued a statement calling for better test protocols and more research into the long-term effects of GMOs. The European Council has also repeatedly voiced concerns about EFSA's work. EFSA's recommendations on GMOs have never achieved formal backing by the required two-thirds majority of EU member states. No long-term human health studies prove GM foods are safe, and a recent study found that one variety of GM animal feed widely sold to Irish farmers causes liver and kidney damage to laboratory animals.

GM animal feed

Following surveys which found that most EU consumers also do not want to eat GM-fed animal products, more and more leading EU retailers are now extending their previous bans on GM food to also exclude or restrict meat, poultry and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM ingredients (see box below). In response to consumer demand, Irish farmers should therefore phase out the use of GM animal feed as soon as possible.

In February 2007, a petition signed by one million EU citizens called on the Commission to require mandatory labelling for such produce because of citizens' right to information, a fundamental right in the European Union. The petition was delivered to the EC Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Markos Kyprianou, who said "it shows strong interest in the issue on the part of EU citizens, who are increasingly concerned about food safety, the quality of food and the use of GMOs in the food chain". Food producers, retailers, restaurateurs and consumers are increasingly alarmed by the growing volumes of illegal and/or toxic GM ingredients which have entered the Irish food chain three or four times in the past few years, including illegal and unlabelled GM rice sold in supermarkets and served in restaurants, and illegal and/or toxic GM animal feed, of which 12,000 tonnes entered the EU market through Dublin port in a single shipment in April 2007, including 5,313 tonnes which appears to have been sold to farmers even though it was reported to cause liver and kidney damage in mammals.

This alarm is exacerbated by open-air experiments with GM "pharma crops" underway in the USA and Germany. These crops are genetically modified to produce industrial chemicals, biofuels and drugs whose contamination of the food chain is clearly unacceptable. Cross-contamination of food from GM biofuel crops (especially GM oilseed rape) is the most immediate threat for Ireland.

Availability of GM-free soya and maize

Unlike most EU countries which practice factory farming, Ireland is renowned for the superior taste of its grass-fed beef, lamb and dairy produce, produced with minimal use of animal feed compounds. The two most important animal feed ingredients imported here are soy meal (mostly from Argentina and Brazil, to boost protein levels), along with maize gluten and distillers grain (for energy), mostly from the USA. Currently, 95% of these imported soy and maize products are genetically modified.

Regarding soya, official representatives of the IFA, ICMSA, ICSA and the National Beef Association (NI) met recently in Co Wicklow with IMCOPA, Brazil's largest exporter of certified non-GMO soya meal, to discuss the option of phasing out GM soya meal. IMCOPA said it can easily supply all of Ireland's needs for non-GMO soya (certified at the very low 0.1% detection threshold), for a premium of about 0.01/kg (1 cent) above the daily commodity price set by the Chicago Board of Trade. This premium includes the costs of shipping to any port in Ireland. Problem solved!

Regarding maize gluten and distiller's grains, the vast majority of the EU maize crop continues to be GM free, with an overall surplus of GM-free maize available from Hungary. But GM experiments in some parts of Spain and France have already contaminated neighbouring farms (despite EC assurances that GM crops can safely "co-exist" with their conventional and organic counterparts). This could turn into an irreversible disaster if Monsanto succeeds in its goal to patent, genetically modify and thus secure monopoly control of 100% of the EU maize crop within a few years. In the USA, half the maize crop remains GM free, and transportation costs often make it cheaper to import maize to Ireland from America than Southern Europe. However, cheap US maize feed imports may soon become a thing of the past because of peak oil and the massive diversion of US maize for biofuel use.

The Government should therefore foster greater European and Irish self-reliance for the production of maize and other energy-rich animal feed crop substitutes. We should encourage southern European countries which have not already done so to ban the cultivation of GM maize, and support a diversification of Irish agriculture to include more tillage for the production of rolled oats and barley, which would benefit rural communities with more jobs and also protect our biodiversity and food security.

But with the massive diversion of the US maize crop into biofuel, and peak oil expected to drive the costs of chemical farm inputs and transportation rapidly upwards, Ireland will need to produce most of our own animal feed to guarantee our food security, food sovereignty and farming future. The resulting diversification and increased tillage and local food production will boost local economies and keep food affordable.

Value-added production

The shift to GM-free animal feed is a significant market trend which Irish farmers should follow closely.

The GMO-Free World Summit on Diversity will take place May 12-16, 2008 in Bonn, Germany.

And the European Network of GMO-free Regions, which currently includes 39 EU Regional Governments in six member states, will host a conference on "Non-GM feedstuff, Quality Production and European Regional Agriculture Strategies" at the European Parliament on December 5-6, 2007.

Over ten regions in Austria, France, Italy, and Spain have already committed themselves to this approach. Preliminary meetings have been held with the EC, the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions, AER, CRPM, AREPO, COPA-COGECA and with Brazilian players of the entire sector, and the project is going full steam ahead. The European Commission's Directorates-General for Agriculture, Health and Consumer Protection, Development and Trade have also agreed to participate.

The EU Network of GM-free Regions is phasing out GM animal feed to provide value-added production, to preserve competitive and high-quality agriculture in the context of the globalisation of food markets, and thus boost the sustainability of local rural communities. These regional governments are demanding a special status for quality agriculture which recognises its role in space management, environmental protection, and the strengthening of local communities, and wants all the European Regions to support this strategy in the mid-term review of the CAP in 2008 and its revision in 2013.


Given the vast profits which giant agribusiness-biotech corporations intend to secure by genetically modifying and patenting the world's agricultural seeds and livestock, it is no surprise that the public relations companies and spin doctors they employ in the Irish media are hard at work, even resorting to forged letters, "shoot the messenger" techniques, and scare-mongering with all sorts of incredible claims.

Having failed to convince European farmers and consumers that GM crops are more nutritious, have higher yields, require less chemicals, or will end world hunger, their current strategy – called Public Perception Management – now aims to convince us that nothing can be done to prevent the GMO invasion in general, and that there is no alternative to the use of GM animal feed in particular. The scale of this deception echoes the fraudulent claims about the non-existent "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. Just because you believe something does not make it true.

The simple reality is that certified GM-free feed is available, and that the minimal extra costs involved can be recouped by the higher premia already provided by leading European retailers. Irish producers and exporters of live cattle, beef and dairy produce who use certified non-GMO feed are already securing these premia in the export markets.

Foreign direct investment

Declaring the whole island of Ireland a GMO-free zone is also likely to attract foreign direct investment from international agricultural seed developers looking for a safe haven for the production and conservation of certified non-GMO varieties of cereals, vegetables and fruit. Instead of attempting to win an impossible competition for the production of low quality GM-fed beef with countries with cheap labour like Brazil, Ireland's economic advantage clearly lies in the production of the high-quality, safe GM free produce which the markets demand.

Our green image, mostly grass-fed livestock, and geographical isolation give us an invaluable head-start in this regard. Keeping Ireland GM-free is good for business.


More and more retailers move towards excluding meat and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM ingredients

SOME of the EU retailers who exclude or restrict meat and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM ingredients:


All of Marks & Spencer's fresh meat and poultry, salmon, shell eggs and fresh milk comes from animals fed on a non-GM diet. The Kepak Group, which controls 60% of Irish beef exports, requires some farmers who produce meat for its flagship KK Club brand to exclude the use of GM animal feed.

All Kepak's chicken meat comes from birds reared on a vegetarian, non-GMO diet. The Silver Pail Dairy in Co Cork has signed multi-million euro foreign direct investment deals with Baskin Robbins (the world's largest ice-cream retailer) and with Ben & Gerry's, to produce GM-free ice cream (made from milk from cows fed a certified non-GMO diet) for the European market.

TLT International in Mullingar exports non GMO-fed live store cattle yearly, mostly to Northern Italy.

All Irish organic meat and dairy producers avoid use of GM animal feed, including Glenisk which recently secured € 5m in foreign direct investment to expand its EU market share.


Tesco, Sainsburys, M&S and Budgen Stores all have quality labels for meat and dairy produce from livestock fed on certified GM-free animal feed. All of Marks & Spencer's fresh meat and poultry, salmon, shell eggs and fresh milk comes from animals fed on non-GM diet. Moreover, standard poultry sold in most UK supermarkets now carries a label certifying GM-free feed.

The UK has over 40 GMO-free zones, including Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall.


Most retailers avoid GM-labelled food. A well-known leading supermarket chain is expected to exclude meat and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM ingredients later this year. A second leading retailer is considering the same, beginning with pork meat, but for reasons of corporate social responsibility, rather than marketing.


The largest retailer, Coop Italia, already has a quality label for meat and dairy produce from livestock fed on certified GM-free animal feed. GM crops are banned in most Italian regions, including Tuscany where anyone found growing GM crops faces two years in prison or a € 50,000 fine.


Carrefour, Cora, Auchan and Monoprix all have quality labels for meat and dairy produce from livestock fed on certified GM-free animal feed. GM crops are banned by many regions and local authorities.


The two largest retailers, Migros and Coop, systematically ban all GM food – including meat, poultry and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM feed – in their supermarket brands. Following a national referendum, the Swiss government implemented a five-year moratorium on GM crops and livestock in 2006.


Europe's largest agricultural producer has imposed a total ban on GM crops, and also plans to prohibit GM feed by 2008 unless it is scientifically proven to be safe. Farmers have imported certified non-GMO soya since 2006 for their pork meat bound for the German market.

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