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Top chefs drop support for Irish food scheme over GMOs (22/10/2007)

EXTRACT: GM-free Ireland invited Bord Bia CEO Aidan Cotter to explain his organisation's position on GM food at our Green Ireland conference on branding for food, farming and eco-tourism in June 2006. Following pressure from the Canadian Government agent Shane Morris, Bord Bia withdrew agreed sponsorship for the event but sent its Director of Marketing and Corporate Services, Muiris Kennedy, who failed to address the subject of GM food in his speech, and then reneged on his promise to help organise a high level follow-up discussion on Ireland's GM policy with food and farm industry stakeholders.

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Ireland: Euro-Toques quit File Ba

Oliver Moore gets to the bottom of a high profile File Ba pull-out
Irish Examiner, 18 October 2007
http://www.gmfreeireland.org/news/index.php

[Explanatory note from GM-free Ireland:

The Irish branch of Europe's leading chefs organisation, Euro-Toques, pulled out of the Government-run File Ba food awareness scheme last May, because of its failure to support small food producers and the continued awarding of its 'Quality Assurance' label for Irish meat and dairy produce that is being refused by leading EU retailers because it comes from livestock fed on GM ingredients.

Euro-Toques Ireland (www.eurotoquesirl.org) is an NGO representing the country's 200 leading chefs, who promote high quality, GM-free, locally produced traditional and artisanal food.

Bord Ba (www.bordbia.ie) is the Irish government Foood Board, which promotes and markets Irish food abroad.

File Ba (www.bordbia.ie/consumers/eating_out/_feile_bia/about-feile-bia.html) was initiated by Euro-Toques to create public awareness of Ireland's culinary heritage, to promote local food, and to inform restaurant customers about the origin and methods of producing the food they eat.

Initiated by Euro-Toques Ireland, the programme was run by Bord Ba in conjunction with Euro-Toques, the Restaurants Association of Ireland, and Irish Hotels Federation until Euro-Toques pulled out in May 2007. Euro-Toques and the Restaurants Association are members of the GM-free Ireland Network.]

Irish Examiner, 18 October 2007. By Oliver Moore.

Some of Ireland's best known chefs have pulled out of the File Ba scheme.

'Naturally, we're very disappointed,' says Aidan Cotter, chief executive of Bord Ba, on the Euro-Toques Ireland pull-out.

So he should be. Amongst the 200 Euro-Toques Ireland members are household names such as Nevin McGuire of McNean's Bistro, Darina Allen of Ballymaloe House, and Ross Lewis of Chapter One.

And Euro-Toques has 3,500 members throughout Europe, including many of the most highly regarded chefs in each country. The organisation was founded by Pierre Romeyer, of Belgium's La Maison de Bouche, a three star Michelin restaurant.

What makes the withdrawal all the more noteworthy is that the aims of Euro-Toques seem, on the face of it, to chime with those of Bord Ba, and those of the File Ba scheme run by Bord Ba in conjunction with the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Irish Hotels Federation, and up to now, Euro-Toques Ireland.

Euro-Toques aim to support culinary traditions and quality food. And bord Ba are the Irish food board, who promote and market Irish food.

According to Bord Ba, 'Central to the File Ba concept is that members source the maximum amount of freshly available produce. In addition to promoting traceability, File Ba aims to encourage sourcing from artisan producers and small butchers and highlighting of this supplier information on menus.'

Brid Torrades is a commissioner of Euro-Toques. She runs three establishments in Sligo - the Atrium Cafe in the Model Arts Centre, Osta Caf and Wine Bar and the soon to be opened Tobergal Lane Caf. Brid was a Euro-Toques commissioner when the File Ba concept was first mooted, as a Euro-Toques initiative stemming from the successful European Fte de la Cuisine - which is also a Euro-Toques concept.

'The intention was to create an awareness of our culinary heritage and to progress things further in Ireland. Euro-Toques invited the relevant players together, including Bord Ba, and the name File Ba [which means 'Celebration of Food' in Irish] was settled upon following a brainstorming session.'

She goes on: 'We felt that the original File Ba did just that, while at the same time encouraging chefs and hotels who previously would not have considered the importance of locally sourced produce.'

After this first year, 1999, however, Euro-Toques claim that File Ba moved away from this position. According to their letter of withdrawal, the File Ba tagline changed from 'A celebration of Irish Food' to 'A celebration of quality food' and then 'Certified farm to fork', becoming indicative of a move towards traceability scheme support and bureaucratisation.

'File Ba is now essentially a traceability scheme, which favours larger suppliers and larger catering operations, who can bear the burden and cost of increased bureaucracy. As traceability legislation already exists, and Euro-Toques members conform to this and go far beyond it, a scheme which essentially only guarantees traceability is superfluous, and only adds to the growing bureaucracy which food businesses are now subject to.'

Euro-Toques members also suggest that their own guidelines go much further than File Ba. 'We aspire to sourcing in season, locally, with sustainable agriculture practices and good animal husbandry; elements which cannot be guaranteed by a 'Quality Assurance Scheme'. Furthermore, we believe that people should have the freedom to produce and supply quality food without being forced to be part of any scheme which may contribute to the high costs and bureaucracy which are already crippling so many producers,' says Brid Torrades.

Another major issue for Euro-Toques is genetic modification. As the letter of withdrawal states, 'We also have serious concerns... about the use of GM feeds in the production of meat and dairy in Ireland. We are not happy to endorse a branding which 'quality assures' such products.'

I put these concerns to Aidan Cotter, chief executive of Bord Ba. I asked him about File Ba and the Quality Assurance Scheme.

He said, 'The principal condition is that it has to be based on Quality Assurance... we have to have Quality Assurance as a platform on which to promote, in order to stay on the right side of state aid rules.'

He also suggested Quality Assurance is about more than just safety, it's about broader issues such as environmental health (for example, salt levels in pork) and animal welfare.

In relation to the small producer, Aidan suggested 'We do believe that it supports small producers.'

He also pointed out that the scheme itself does not cost money to join, and that it supports both small and large producers. Also, Bord Ba do promotional work for small producers, including the launch of a center of excellence to support these producers.

I put some of these points to Lorcan Cribbin, commissioner-general of Euro-Toques Ireland. According to Lorcan, 'It's not difficult if you have money. If you are making a nominal amount of money, and then someone comes in and tells you to upgrade your production, and it's going to cost twenty or thirty grand, more and more people are falling by the wayside, because they can't afford to do it.'

'If you let all these artisan producers slip through the net, in 10 or 15 years time, Ireland will be a far poorer place fo it.'

Chefs worried by consumer unawareness of GM feedstuffs

Confusion over genetic modification has contributed to the pullout of the Euro-Toques organisation of top chefs in Ireland from the File Ba scheme run by Bord Ba.

Euro-Toques - one of the File Ba founders - wrote to Bord Ba about their genetic modification concerns in March last year, and were told Irish beef production conditions are fully transparent.

'I am satisfied the product continues to enjoy a strong, positive image and the full confidence of customers in the European Union, who now represent 93% of our beef export market,' was the Bord Bia response.

Euro-Toques suggested in their File Ba withdrawal letter, 'This is blatantly untrue, as few consumers are aware of the use of GM feeds in Irish food production.'

I put this issue to Aidan Cotter of Bord Ba. 'What they say is correct, most consumers don't know that most animals are fed feed that happens to be GM. It's not deliberately GM, but it just so happens that so much of the maize and soya beans that comes across from the US and South America is GM, and is not segregated. So farmers tend not to have a choice. That goes not just for Ireland, but also for the UK and continental Europe. So consumers in Europe are choosing meat locally, whether in France or Italy, that is generally fed on the same feed animals are fed on in Ireland. So when I say conditions are transparent, what I mean is that the conditions of production in Italy or France or wherever are the same, but our animals are fed to a greater extent on grassland.'

I put it to Aidan that, according to our new Food Minister, feeding GM feedstuffs to our livestock may involve a market risk. If consumers found out about this feed, they might be concerned. 'If there is a risk, that risk is shared by all meat producers throughout Europe. Would consumers have a problem with it? We don't know. But we have close relations with 40 retailers around Europe... and we've asked many of them for their view in regard to GM feed.'

'We asked them would they be interested in a source of GM free beef products, and their answer is no.'

Comment from GM-free Ireland

Bord Ba and File Ba should be re-named Failure Ba for their lack of backbone on GM issues.

GM-free Ireland invited Bord Ba CEO Aidan Cotter to explain his organisation's position on GM food at our Green Ireland conference on branding for food, farming and eco-tourism in June 2006. Following pressure from the Canadian Government agent Shane Morris, Bord Ba withdrew agreed sponsorship for the event but sent its Director of Marketing and Corporate Services, Muiris Kennedy, who failed to address the subject of GM food in his speech, and then reneged on his promise to help organise a high level follow-up discussion on Ireland's GM policy with food and farm industry stakeholders.

Bord Ba recently admitted that Ireland can't compete with low-quality beef imports and that the only way forward is to go for high quality, ecologically produced, grass-fed and organic production methods which the EU market demands (Irish Times, 17 October). Why then does this Government agency continue to abuse Irish tax-payer's money by disseminating disinformation on GM feed and food?

Quoted in the article above, Aidan Cotter fails to answer Euro-Toques's criticism of the 'Quality Assurance' label which Bord Ba routinely awards to Irish beef, poultry and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM ingredients.

Cotter makes the outrageous claim that Irish beef production is 'transparent' on GMOs, despite the giant EC loophole that fails to require a GM label for meat, poultry and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM ingredients.

Cotter says farmers 'tend not to have a choice' to avoid GM feed. But EU law has required all animal feed containing GM ingredients to be labelled as such since 2004, and certified non-GMO animal feed is both available, affordable, and still used by leading farmers in Ireland and other parts of Europe.

Cotter's claim that farmers and consumers 'have no choice' to avoid GM feed and food is pure biotech industry propaganda. This disinformation continues to be widely disseminated by the Irish Farmers Association, Teagasc (the Irish Government Agriculture and Food Authority), the Irish Grain and Feed Association, the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association, and Fine Gael Agriculture Spokesman Michael Creed. This suits the financial interests of R&H Hall, which imported and sold thousands of tonnes of American GM maize contaminated by the illegal Herculex variety to farmers in April. Instead of returning the illegal cargo to the sender in the USA, it foolishly kept it here in the hopes that the EU will retroactively legalises it. For details see www.gmfreeireland.org/pakrac/.

Cotter states that 'if there is a risk, that risk if shared by all meat producers throughout Europe'. This is also untrue, because leading EU food producers are now using certified non-GMO maize and soya meal for their animal feed.

Cotter falsely says 'we don't know' if EU consumers have a problem with GM fed meat and dairy produce, even though a million EU citizens have signed a petition demanding mandatory labelling for meat, poulty and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM ingredients, based on the consumer's right to know what we eat.

Finally, Cotter states that many of the 40 European retailers polled by Bord Ba are not interested in GM-free beef products. This is hard to believe, because most leading retailers in the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Poland and Switzerland already have own-brand labels for meat and dairy products from livestock fed on certified non-GMO feed. And here in Ireland, our leading beef exporter, Kepak, offers farmers a premium for beef fed on certified non-GMO animal feed.

For more information on the GM animal feed controversy, see http://www.gmfreeireland.org/feed

Euro-Toques Ireland policy on GM food: 'GMO - An Issue of Concern'

The introduction of genetically modified organisms into the food chain is the most significant development in the agri-food sector in recent times.

Whatever the scientific arguments for GM may be, this technology is very new and there is still significant doubt about its safety

The Irish government takes a pro-GM stance, but this issue has not been debated openly and the majority of consumers do not want it.

Euro-toques Ireland is opposed to the introduction of GM crops and the use of GM animal feeds in Ireland, as we believe they pose a serious threat to the traditional, artisan and local foods we are committed to. Apart from the health, environmental, economic and ethical concerns (of which there are many), this is primarily a question of consumer choice.

Why is Euro-toques opposed to the proliferation of genetically modified food, feed and crops?

The safety of GMOs has not been proven. Until such time a precautionary approach must be adopted

GM technology allows the patenting of seeds and other life forms. We believe the control of food supplies by corporations is a major risk to food security, diversity, and safety.

GM elements are currently included in most livestock feed, but the resulting meat and dairy products are not labeled to indicate this; we believe consumers have a right to know what they are eating and the right to choose GM-free food.

It is proven that cross-contamination occurs between GM crops and organic and conventional crops. Once this happens availability of GM-free food can no longer be guaranteed. Once GMOs are released into the environment, they cannot be recalled.

Proliferation of GM food and crops poses a very serious threat to Irelands reputation as a clean, green island, putting our tourism, culinary, and food export industries at risk. We believe the future for Ireland lies in protecting our natural heritage, encouraging sustainable and environmentally sound agricultural practices, and marketing the country as natural and unspoilt.

Consumers throughout Europe have shown that they do not want GM food and there is no market in Europe for GM products.

Euro-toques chefs seek to use ingredients which are free of GM elements and support the campaign to KEEP IRELAND GM-FREE

For more information please go to www.gmfreeireland.org

If you also feel that this is something we should be concerned about, please sign the petition a http://www.gmfreeireland.org/action/index.php and consider contacting your local media, TDs and County Councillors.

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