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EPA clears way for field trials of blight-resistant GM potato

The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to allow Teagasc carry out experimental field research in Carlow.

Image: graibeard via Flickr

THE SEMI-STATE body responsible for agricultural research and development has been awarded a licence to proceed with field research on a genetically modified strain of potato which is designed to be less vulnerable to blight.

Teagasc said this afternoon it had been granted the licence from the Environmental Protection Agency subject to eight conditions which have not been disclosed. It had applied for the licence in February.

The agency said it proposed to carry out the research over the next four years, in order to determine the impact that a blight-resistant potato could have on the Irish agricultural environment.

The study, to be undertaken at Teagasc headquarters in Carlow, will be isolated from the conventional potato breeding experiments.

Teagasc was keen to stress that the biotechnology industry had no connection to the experiment – meaning the research would have no regard for whether GM potatoes were commercially viable.

Research has suggested that the use of modified potatoes could reduce the amount of fungicide needed by potato farmers, though researcher Dr Ewen Mullins said the agency also had to weigh up the potential costs.

“We need to investigate whether there are long term impacts associated with this specific GM crop in carefully controlled conditions. We need to gauge how the late blight disease itself responds,” he said.

“This is not just a question being asked in Ireland. The same issues are arising across Europe.”

The agency is to launch an outreach programme with the general public in the hope of fostering what it called an “inclusive and impartial discussion” on its concerns about genetic modification of food.

An Taisce said it was disappointed with the EPA’s decision to grant the licence, saying that allowing the trials could damage Ireland’s image as “a green and pure country”.

The agency said it was concerned that an open-air trial of a GM potato could allow the cross-pollination of the modified crop with other, non-modified potatoes.

“The strong potential exists even at trial stage for the altered GM potato gene to move into the greater potato environment in Ireland,” it said.

Sinn Féin and the Green Party both also criticised the EPA’s decision.

Explainer: GM crop trials in Ireland

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Gavan Reilly

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