Ireland: Is Fine Gael clueless on GMOs? (4/10/2007)

Ireland: Is Fine Gael clueless on GMOs?
Partisan politics and agri-biotech hype
Policy makers urged to attend EU conference on GM-free animal feed

GM-free Ireland press release, 4 October 2007.

Is Fine Gael clueless about GMOs? So it would appear from yesterday's press release issued by their agriculture and food spokesman Michael Creed, which claimed the government's new GM-free policy will put 7,000 jobs at risk and cause rising food prices [1].

Is he merely resorting to partisan politics, or has he been duped by agri-biotech industry hype?

Our new govenment's strategy to position Ireland as a leading producer of quality GM-free conventional and organic food is far more economically intelligent than the outdated industrial agribusiness model touted by the global agri-biotech industry and the IFA.

That's because there is widespread consumer rejection and no market for GM food in Europe. And this trend is rapidly spreading to exclude meat and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM ingredients. As Fine Gael Senator James Bannon said, ìExperts throughout Europe observe that supermarkets and food manufacturers are concerned at the introduction of GM foods because the public does not want them. Moreover, the warnings from experts and doctors dictate that such products should not be forced into our food chains.î

Just last year, Fine Gael officially adopted O'Brien's Sandwich Bars CEO Brody Sweeney's Green Ireland policy, which backed the idea of keeping Ireland GM-free in order to safeguard and develop our branding as the clean green GM-free food island. Creed's U-turn appears to be based on partisan politics.

Creed misrepresents Ireland's recent abstentions on EC requests to legalise more GM maize varieties as Green Party 'posturing'. In reality, abstention on GM votes has been Ireland's standard operating procedure for years.

His claim that rising feed and food prices are caused by European market rejection of GMOs is totally spurious. The rising costs of agricultural commodities is due to the inter-connected problems of peak oil, climate change, water depletion and topsoil erosion caused by industrial monoculture agribusiness, and the massive diversion of maize from food to agrofuel. It's an international phenomenon that is not caused by our Government or our GM-free policy. Ireland continues to import GM maize gluten and GM soya meal as usual.

Unfortunately, the Irish pig factory farming industry's addiction to animal feed imports is unsustainable, because it relies exclusively on compound feed imports which are becoming more expensive for all of the above-mentionned reasons. This addiction can not be solved by increasing the dose. The cure requires a voluntary phasing out of imported GM maize gluten, GM distillers grains and GM soya meal, to be replaced with more locally produced GM-free alternatives which cost a bit more but also already secure higher sales premia from EU retailers. Polish pig farmers are successfully using this approach to supply the German market, where most retailers plan to announce a GM-free meat and poultry policy by the end of the year.

Irish cattle and sheep farmers are in a better position than factory pig farmers because they are far less reliant on imported feed compounds. Our livestock eat so much grass and silage that compound feeds constitute as little as 7% of their total diet – far less than factory-farmed cattle in other EU countries. Moreover, only half of this 7% consists of maize and soya feed, which is where the GM ingredients come in. Our cattle and sheep farmers can thus convert to GM-free feed at less expense than many of their EU counterparts, and make more profit from doing so. Moreover, the government's plan to declare the whole island of ireland off-limits to GM crops, together with our geographical isolation and famous green image, will give Ireland the most credible safe GM-free food brand in Europe. This is an unique competitive advantage we must seize while we can [2].

To implement this strategy, the Government must encourage farmers, feed importers and feed compounders to collaborate to build the Irish market for certified non-GMO feed, and to set up the segregated distribution system to prevent this from being contaminated by the run-of-the-mill legal and illegal varieties of GM feed which have contaminated our food chain and tarnished our green image in recent years.

Instead of using biotech industry disinformation about the GM issue for partisan political purposes, the two governments and all political parties North and South of the Border should empower their citizens to forge a shared vision of Ireland's farming future. The first step is to recognising the following facts:

*there is no market for GM-labelled food in the EU; GM crops are totally or partially banned by nine national governments, along with 236 regional governments, local authorities, and 4,500 smaller areas in 22 EU member states, and Switzerland;

*a million EU citizens have called for mandatory GM food labelling to be extended to meat, poultry and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM-ingredients;

*leading EU retailers have already (a) banned such produce from their supermarket shelves or (b) created their own quality brands which specifically exclude contaminated produce;

*certified non-GMO feed is available for a small premium, (around € 0.01 (1 cent) per kg for soya meal and around 10 - 15% for GM-free maize gluten);

*farmers who use GM-free feed can recoup the cost from premia offered by leading EU retailers;

*European farmers are using GM-free animal feed to position their produce as higher quality than those fed on GM feed.

The Dáil Committee on Science and Technology envisaged by Fine Gael to sort out the issue would inevitably be co-opted by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, Teagasc and the IFA and transformed into a marketing exercise for Monsanto, BASF and other agri-biotech corporations who are intent on controlling Ireland's entire food supply via their patented GM crops and GM feed ingredients. The ensuing debate would turn into a faction fight between partisan politicians who don't understand the issues. Ordinary farmers and consumers would not have any real say.

Fine Gael's claim that 'farmers need direction' is code for 'believe what Monsanto and BASF say in the Irish Farmers Journal'. This is an insult to farmers, who should personally make up their own minds about this issue and who have a legal right to actively participate in formulating Ireland's policy on GMOs (which affects them more than any other group of stakeholders), as required by the Aarhus Convention on public participation in environmental decision-making [2].

What's needed is a broad national and international conversation between all stakeholders to find the best way forward. The prerequisite is for all concerned to first inform themselves about the issues, in the context of the current EU-wide shift towards quality sustainable agriculture.

Concerned policy makers in the political parties, government agencies, food and farm sectors should participate in the following events:

*Conference on Non-GM Feedstuff, Quality Production and European Agriculture Strategy
Co-hosted by the EU Committee of the Regions and the European GMO-free Regions Network
5 - 6 December 2007
Committee of the Regions Office
Registration: http://www.gmofree-euregions.net

*World Summit on GMO-Free Diversity
12-16 May 2008
Bonn (Germany)
Registration: http://www.gmo-free-regions.org/planetdiversity.html


1. Fine Gael press release, 3 October 2007: ì7,000 jobs at risk from FF-Green combination on GM feed issue ‚ Creed. * Pig industry in the firing line * Food prices will rise http://www.finegael.ie/news/index.cfm/type/details/nkey/32385/pkey/653

2. See proceedings of the Green Ireland conference on branding for food, farming and eco-tourism, held at Kilkenny Castle in 2006: http://www.gmfreeireland.org/conference/.

3. Aarhus Convention website: http://www.unece.org/env/pp/

Introduction to the Aarhus Convention: Access To Information, Participation, and Justice In Environmental Decision-Making
PowerPoint presentation by Michael Ewing of the Sligo Institute of Technology Centre for Sustainability (520 kb ppt file): http://www.gmfreeireland.org/conference/PPT/Aarhus.ppt

Aarhus Convention Text: http://www.unece.org/env/pp/treatytext.htm

The Aarhus Convention. An Implementation Guide: www.unece.org/env/pp/acig.pdf

PRTR Protocol Text (Pollutant Release and Transfer Register Protocol): http://www.unece.org/env/pp/prtr.htm

Aarhus Clearinghouse for Environmental Democracy. Here you can read items relating to the Convention submitted by NGOs, individuals and governments. They are arranged by country, as well as under. Anyone can submit articles: http://aarhusclearinghouse.unece.org

Aarhus Compliance Committee. What it is and how to access it: http://www.unece.org/env/pp/compliance/Pubcom0205.doc

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