The future for GM
Letter in Irish Times on 25/07/2012 by Fergal Anderson, Member of the Irish working group on Food Sovereignty
Sir, – Dick Ahlstrom’s article “Ireland could lose out by rejecting GM” (Home News, July 19th) on a talk by Jack Bobo, Hillary Clinton’s biotechnology adviser, in University College Dublin, provided a great deal of misleading information about the debate on GM crops.
Mr Bobo is correct in his assertion that Ireland, like the rest of Europe, imports huge amounts of mixed animal feeds which include GM crops. These crops come with environmental and social costs (deforestation, soil exhaustion, excessive chemical use) which are not reflected in their price.
Irish farmers could instead opt to produce high quality, grass and non-GM-fed meat and dairy products to supply a European market which is eager to consume non-GM foods. The commercial benefits of converting to high quality as opposed to high quantity exports are clear, and Mr Bobo has patently ignored them.
The argument that GM crops are necessary to feed the world’s population is simply misleading and it is a shame to see it so readily repeated in this newspaper. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development report (IAASTD), a three-year collaborative effort initiated by the World Bank, FAO, UNDP, WHO and signed by almost 60 countries (including Ireland) rejected the role of GM technologies in resolving hunger in the world. Multiple studies have shown that smallscale farming with improved varieties of traditional seeds using agro-ecological methods offers a more sustainable long-term solution to feeding the world’s population. Such a view is also shared by the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter.
Mr Bobo is also right that farming is one of the “most damaging of activities” which indeed accounts for a great deal of greenhouse gas emissions. These emanate primarily from the heavily industrialised, input dependent system of agriculture of which GM crops and the biotech firms which develop them are the apogee.
Ireland needs to look towards a future which can ensure livelihoods for farmers while providing healthy food and an uncontaminated environment for the Irish people and their children. It means affirming Irish food sovereignty – the right of the people and not transnational corporations and industries to define their own food and agricultural policies.
Real innovation means thinking anew and being brave enough to invent a new direction – not bowing over to the will of biotechology companies. Irish citizens – including the readers of this newspaper – deserve better. – Yours, etc,
(Member of the Irish working group on Food Sovereignty),