GM-free victory as trials are scrapped
By Steve Dube
Western Mail, 6 June 2006
The world's largest chemicals company BASF has scrapped controversial plans to conduct trials of genetically modified potatoes in Ireland.
BASF said the decision was taken because of the conditions imposed in the provisional consent given by the Environmental Protection Agency in Ireland last month.
These included requiring the company to reduce the risk of contaminating neighbouring farmland and wildlife, to pay the costs of an independent monitoring of health and environmental impacts and to plant the 450,000 potato plants involved in May.
BASF complained that such conditions had not been imposed for similar experiments in Sweden and the company's chief executive Hans Kast responded with an extraordinary interview saying that countries that did not want GM food "should not be in the EU".
The Irish Government's decision to approve BASF's request for a five-year trial on land in County Meath provoked opposition from more than 100 farm and food industry groups and MPs from all the parties, two motions passed unanimously by Meath County Council, and the threat of further legal action on planning and constitutional grounds.
A poll by the Irish Times showed that 72% of respondents want Ireland kept GM-free.
Hans Kast, who chairs Europa- Bio, the umbrella group for the biotechnology industry in Europe, said they could not accept a situation where countries refused to take safe products.
"They should get out of the EU and say we want to be on our own," he said.
Asked about the campaign in Wales, he said he had not heard that the people of Wales did not want GM food.
"Would Wales be allowed to say we don't want to have cars?" he asked.
Dr Brian John of the GM Free Wales campaign group said Dr Kast was talking nonsense.
"The logic is so convoluted and contorted I don't know what he is trying to say," said Dr John.
"It's just garbled rubbish about the EU, but probably he's a bit miffed that they have been nasty to him in Ireland."
GM-free Ireland Network spokesperson Michael O'Callaghan said cancellation of the potato trials was a victory for European farmers who "refuse to surrender ownership of their seeds and crops".
He said the World Trade Organisation's Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement enables corporate owners of GM crop patents to claim ownership of contaminated farmers' produce.
Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser faced a million-dollar patent-infringement lawsuit from Monsanto after his crops became contaminated with its GM rapeseed in 1996.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that he no longer owned his seeds and crops because they contained the patented GM genes.
Last month Mr Schmeiser filed a complaint against the government of Canada with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights alleging violation of consumers' and farmers' rights and attempts to force GM terminator seeds - modified to be sterile and prevent farmers from saving and replanting seeds - on the rest of the world.
Mr O'Callaghan said the next step was for the Irish Government to join the European campaign for EC legislation that recognises the right of member states and regions to prohibit the release of GM seeds, crops, trees, fish and livestock.
"The time has come for the Irish Government and EC to stop surrendering our sovereignty and food security to the WTO," he said.
A total of 172 EU regions and provinces have now declared themselves GM Free zones, or - like Wales - passed policies to restrict GM crops.