TOM BARRY T.D. IS OPPOSED TO GM POTATO
“When people ask me about GM foods, I would usually start by asking them ‘if you own an allotment or have a vegetable garden and you are presented with 10kg of genetically modified potatoes and 10kg of regular Kerr Pinks; which bag would you set to feed yourself and your family?’.
Most people would consider the regular potatoes acceptable as the perception of
the unknown is that it’s not worth the risk at present.” Deputy Tom Barry said
this week, voicing his concern about Teagasc approved trials of late blight resistant GM potatoes.
“I worked in a lab back in the 1980s when PCR (the method of sequencing the genome of both animals and plants) was developed. I recognise that this is new technology and has a journey to travel before we fully understand all the consequences of our actions in manipulating the human or the plant genome. The genome is the entirety of an organism’s hereditary information, made up of a sequence of chromosomes; and their sequence determines everything about us from our hair colour to our height to our predisposition to
diseases. This is also true for plants and science is saying that if we take
out the so-called bad sequence and replace it with a good sequence, our plants
will produce more and will become less susceptible to disease. However, because
this sequence is not in a long straight line but is a three-dimensional interconnected structure, if you alter one part of the genome it will interact differently with other parts of the genome in a structural way; thus affecting the whole genome as opposed to just the part that has been changed. What can happen is that huge side-effects can occur based on small alterations to the sequence. Plant breeders, for years, have been breeding out bad characteristics and encouraging better yields through natural methods; however, GM attempts to short circuit this process, but with very limited controls – limited by our
lack of depth of knowledge in this area.”
He continued: “Only two years ago, when potato production exceeded demand, boat loads of potatoes were exported to Russia at a loss by the producers to stave off financial ruin. So the argument of extra production, at this point in time, beggars belief. There is no direct
correlation between an increase in production and increased income for the primary producer and reduced cost to the consumer. I exited milk production in 1991 and, at the time, I was receiving approximately £1 a gallon; which is the equivalent to 28c a litre. Remarkably, 21 years later, this is exactly the same price that dairy farmers are getting for their milk. How can this be, when the price of milk to the consumer has increased by 25%? The stagnation in the price for the primary producer is mind-boggling as, in those last 21 years, the cost of regulation, inputs, etc. have all gone up exponentially – and yet the
primary producer is still producing for the same price they got 21 years ago. Most of this has been possible because of increased scale of production, better genetics; however, there is a limit as to how far this can be brought. Sadly, this is also reflected in the statistics which now show that many farmers can no longer make a living directly from their products but rely on subsidies to keep their operations afloat.
“As an island nation which exports 90% of all of its produce, Ireland is in a unique position. The standards and traceability which we have nurtured over the past 20 years are the envy of the entire food producing world. Currently, we produce and fill 16% of the world infant milk formula market; which is an outstanding achievement. If we move to a GM status, I cannot see how this will enhance our green image and it may put at risk the
competitive advantage we have as a food producing nation. If increased food production
is what we need as a country, then a concerted effort must be made to get every acre producing to its potential right across the country. Far too much land is being left idle or semi-idle and it strikes me that we need to get our country up to full production naturally, before we consider any fundamental change such as GM. In conclusion, it is not that I am ideologically opposed to genetically modified production. It is that, at this moment in time, we do not require its services and, in my informed opinion, we do not yet know enough about the potential consequences of genetically modified food.
“As a person who spends a lot of my free time gardening, you learn to appreciate food and food production. We have come out of an era of cheap money, cheap oil and cheap food; when, in reality, none of these actually existed. We have seen money becoming dear and non-existent, we have seen oil, which we have become ridiculously dependant on, becoming scarcer and dearer; and the very promise of cheap food is strangling us economically and forcing us to take routes of production which we naturally would not choose. Ireland is different to a lot of countries in the world in that, not only is it self-sufficient in food production – it also exports vast quantities of food. Our legacy as legislators must be to build on the shoulders of the custodians of our countryside who have provided us with an unspoiled and highlyproductive landscape which we must pass on to the next generation, whilst providing these people with a decent standard of living.”