ENVIRONMENTALISTS have criticised the decision to allow genetically modified potato trials.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said yesterday it would permit state research body Teagasc to carry out field trials on potatoes which have been genetically altered to make them resistant to late blight.
But the move was criticised by the organic farming lobby, who said they were considering appealing the EPA's decision. They said it would have huge economic fallout by destroying Ireland's clean, green food image and potentially contaminating other crops.
However, conventional potato farmers say it is worth carrying out scientific trials to see if they can lessen incidence of blight and pesticide use.
Teagasc said that this blight causes €15m worth of losses a year to potato growers and requires fungicide to be applied up to 15 times a season -- meaning the GM potatoes could reduce this chemical use.
It is already growing these potatoes in greenhouses, but can now move them into fields to see how they perform.
"We cannot simply look at the benefits without also considering the potential costs. We need to investigate whether there are long-term impacts associated with this specific GM crop," said Teagasc researcher Dr Ewen Mullins.
The EPA has imposed eight strict conditions in granting the licence, including bi-monthly reports and results which will be made available to the public.
Teagasc said it would study all the conditions to ensure it can comply before proceeding.
It was unlikely they would put stringent security measures in place to prevent sabotage as this could generate more hostility, a spokesperson said.
"If you put up high walls, it makes it look like you're doing something sinister, and we want to be open to opponents of this technology and engage with them about it," he said.
Similar trials on GM sugarbeet in the 1990s were thwarted when eco-protesters ripped up the crop.
The No2gm organisation said the decision had created a "tidal wave of disgust through the Irish food industry".
Leading organic beef farmer, Jimmy Mulhall, said he is concerned about the commercial impact of GM crops.
"It's all about seed companies trying to take control of the food chain, and it will make it very difficult to separate GM feed from non-GM, which could have a huge knock-on effect because consumers don't want this," he said.
But potato farmer Thomas Carpenter -- chairman of the Irish Farmers' Association's Potato Committee -- said he welcomed the trial: "It's right that an independent body like Teagasc can carry out scientific research to see if something could be of benefit to both producers and consumers."
"Every farmer would like to use less chemicals but, of course, we have to be mindful of what the consumer wants," he said.
"There is no demand for GM foods from consumers. By taking this irresponsible step, Teagasc have effectively ended our status as a GM-free island," said Irish Organic Growers and Farmers Association manager Gillian Westbrook.