The first genetically modified organisms (GMO) were grown in 1986.
Since then, the two main GMOs in agriculture have been in herbicide tolerance and insecticide resistance.
Today, more than 80 per cent of the world’s soy crop is from GM seed. It’s a technology that has swept most of the developed and developing world, except countries in Europe. From 1997, in the US, GM crops have gone from accounting for less than 20 per cent of the crops grown, to more than 70 per cent in less than 20 years. In India, 92 per cent of cotton is GM. GM has been a huge success but only with two traits, four crops and a few countries dominating.
Unfortunately, knowledge about GMOs has not kept pace with the science. Some 44 per cent of Germans think that non-GMO tomatoes do not contain genes, according to David McConnell, Professor of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin.
There is no significant difference between GM farming and food and non-GM farming in food in scientific terms, he says. In Europe, we seem to have turned a blind eye to the science and have been led by consumer sentiment. Fears around ‘Frankenstein foods’ and ‘super weeds’ have stalled any meaningful progress on GMOs.
We all eat food either directly, or indirectly, which are or contain GMOs. We import feed for cattle that is made with GM crops, while foods such as cheese, bread, beer and fruit juice all indirectly contain GMOs. Over 50 per cent of the total feed used on Irish farms is GM.
While the EU has approved 67 GMO crops, only one has been grown. In Ireland, Teagasc has gone ahead with its trial of GM potatoes. It’s a step forward, but Ireland will need to move at a much quicker pace if it is to be at the forefront in science research and application. We are heavily reliant on the agri-food and pharmaceutical industries for jobs and exports. We cannot be world leaders in research and development in either sector unless we choose to compete. And, to compete we must consider our future with GMO technologies.
Whatever our decision, it must be based on science, not ignorance and it should be made sooner rather than later.