Ireland, long synonymous with lush green hills and local family farms, is now seeing its agriculturally bucolic reputation flip upside down with the threat of introducing genetically modified (GM) potatoes. Designed to withstand blight, a disease that devastates the crop turning potatoes into inedible mush, these GM potatoes would hypothetically not be impacted by the disease, saving Ireland its staple food as well as significant funds.
Although only in the initial trial phases of research, local and international pushback is quickly developing with many arguing that Ireland’s public reputation is gravely at stake with the introduction of a GM crop. The country claims, however, that it is “doing [everything] to make sure [the GM potato] is safe for the environment.” Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority, was recently granted a license by the EPA to go ahead with testing.
Genetically modified food is nothing new, especially in the United States. Nonetheless, many remain doubtful that using genetically modified plants are the long term solution to a sustainable food source. In fact, more and more studies are emerging pointing to negative side effects of GM crops, particularly those related to health, the impact on pollinators such as honeybees and monarchs, and the natural environment.
What may seem like a “smart” short term economic and food security decision on Ireland’s part can therefore have detrimental impacts down the road and on the global food supply. For example, GM crops often require more herbicide as plant strands mutate and evolve into stronger genetic strains. These strains can also spread. In the United States alone, “GM canola has been found growing wild in North Dakota and California, threatening to pass on its herbicide tolerant genes on to weeds” in those regions. Another stark example is the recent search for a GM apple that never turns brown.
Ireland’s decision to push forward with the study of GM potatoes has a disturbing ripple effect that not only threatens Ireland’s strong farming roots and agricultural history, but leads one to ask: what additional crops could soon be added to the GM list? It’s a slippery slope.
Gavin Lynch of the Organic Trust in Dublin agrees, saying that this approval has “grave ramifications for Irish food and farming.” Lynch also commented that this research trial “will be the first GM trial since 1996 when a previous attempt at growing GM sugar beets was discontinued.” Let’s hope this attempt at growing GM potatoes gets the same degree of scrutiny.
Photo Credit: Tahir mq