There is no significant difference between food produced through GM farming and food produced through non-GM farming in scientific terms, according to David McConnell, Professor of Genetics, Trinity.
He was speaking at a recent GMO Conference in Dublin Castle which was run by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We eat imported GM foods. We use imported GM animal feed. We also eat cheese, bread, beer, whiskey and fruit juice, which all contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs),” he said.
Weak public science, he said, means that we have un-informed media, politicians and civil servants, yet strong anti-scientific GMO groups.
“GM farming and food should be regulated in the same way as non-GM farming and food. Greenpeace opposes the release of GM crops, including Golden Rice, into the environment. Its stance is not based on science but ignorance.” Golden Rice was invented as a non-profit project, and aims to eliminate vitamin A deficiency, which is the number one cause of preventable blindness in many countries.
He said single gene technology is sweeping across the world. From a starting point in 1986, today more than 80 per cent of the world’s soy production is GM. “Apart from mobile phones, very few technologies have swept the world like GM has.” He said that farmers need to realise they are being penalised by not having access to GM crops. “I would also hope that farming organisations would realise they are being penalised.
“They need to recognise the accuracy of the technology. There is so much work coming down the track, with
wonderful discoveries and they are going to impact on what we can do in agriculture and medicine. We have to try get away from the idea that they are dangerous.”
IFA National Potato Chairman, Thomas Carpenter, said that given the ever-increasing demand for food on a global level, and simultaneous concerns over the environment and pesticide use, the pressure is now on for society to develop and adopt biotech solutions to make better use of resources and deliver environmental benefits.
“Lack of political leadership, along with inconsistent EU policies has further alienated European consumers. Robust independent research coupled with a properly designed education programme is needed to help consumers to understand the benefits that biotechnology can deliver,” he said.
Crop yields for major Irish crops such as potatoes and wheat have plateaued over the last 20 years, he said, while up to 30 per cent of crop yield potential is not being achieved due to pests, diseases, climate and environmental factors.
He said it is the responsibility of EU society to examine how biotechnology can be used to increase crop yield significantly, while also addressing environmental concerns.
Thomas McLoughlin, Senior Inspector with the EPA, said the EU does see the potential of GM technology. He said there are 511 approved registered users of GM technology in Ireland, most of which are academic. Just 8 per cent, he said, are industrial users. He also said that over 50 per cent of the total feed used on Irish farms is from GM crops.