Ireland Adopts GM-free Zone Policy
GM-free Ireland Network
October 13, 2009
Government to ban cultivation of all GM plants
Voluntary GM-free label for meat, poultry, eggs, fish and dairy produce
DUBLIN - The Irish Government will ban the cultivation of all GM crops and introduce a voluntary GM-free label for food - including meat, poultry, eggs, fish, crustaceans, and dairy produce made without the use of GM animal feed.
The policy was adopted as part of the Renewed Programme for Government agreed between the two coalition partners, the centre-right Fianna Faíl and the Green Party, after the latter voted to support it on Saturday.
The agreement specifies that the Government will "Declare the Republic of Ireland a GM-Free Zone, free from the cultivation of all GM plants". The official text also states "To optimise Ireland's competitive advantage as a GM-Free country, we will introduce a voluntary GM-Free logo for use in all relevant product labelling and advertising, similar to a scheme recently introduced in Germany." 
The President of the Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers Association, Malcolm Thompson, said he was delighted by the announcement, adding, "The Government's new GM-free policy is the fulfillment of what we at ICSA have held for the last five years. I very much look forward to its full implementation." 
Michael O'Callaghan of GM-free Ireland said the policy signals a new dawn for Irish farmers and food producers:
"The WTO's economic globalisation agenda has forced most Irish farmers to enter an unwinnable race to the bottom for low quality GM-fed meat and dairy produce, in competition with countries like the USA, Argentina and Brazil which can easily out-compete us with their highly subsidised GM crop monocultures, cheap fossil fuel, extensive use of toxic agrochemicals that are not up to EU standards, and underpaid migrant farm labour.
"Meanwhile, hundreds of European food brands, retailers and Regions now offer GM-free beef, pork, lamb, poultry, eggs, fish and dairy produce as part of their Food Safety, Quality Agriculture, Biodiversity, Fair Trade, Sustainable Development and Climate Change strategies. Thousands of brands in the USA are doing likewise. Without a GM-free label to distinguish our produce, Irish food is being excluded from this global market."
"The Irish Government plan to ban GM crops and to provide a voluntary GM-fee label for qualifying animal produce makes obvious business sense for our agri-food and eco-tourism sectors . Everyone knows that US and EU consumers, food brands and retailers want safe GM-free food, and Ireland is ideally positioned to deliver the safest, most credible GM-free food band in Europe, if not the world."
The international market for GM-free animal produce is growing rapidly
Across Europe, hundreds of leading food brands (including the largest dairy coop, Friesland Campina) and dozens of leading retailers (including the largest, Carrefour) now offer premium meat, fish, eggs, poultry eggs and dairy produce made without the use of GM feedstuffs. These are backed by GM-free labels and Government regulations in Austria, Italy, Germany, with France to follow later this year. Sales of GM-free milk have skyrocketed since the label came into effect in Germany .
In the USA, to which Ireland exports vast quantities of dairy produce (including milk powder and casein for cheese production), leading food manufacturers, retailers, processors, distributors, farmers, seed breeders and consumers have set up joint venture called the Non-GMO Project, which already provides GM-free labels for over 1,000 food products by individual manufacturers in addition to thousands of GM-free private retail brands .
Unique selling point for Irish food
Ireland's geographical isolation and offshore Atlantic western winds provide a natural barrier to contamination by wind-borne GM pollen drift from countries such as the UK and Spain which still allow commercial release and/or field trials of GM crops . Together with this natural protection - and Ireland's famous green image and unpolluted topsoil - the new GM-free policy will provide Irish farmers and food producers who avoid the use of GM feed with a truly unique selling point: the most credible safe GM food brand in Europe." 
Moreover, because most Irish cattle and sheep enjoy a grass-based diet, their consumption of GM feedstuffs is lower than livestock in many competing countries. This provides Irish farmers with a valuable lead start in phasing out the use of GM feed . The only obstacle is the Irish animal feed cartel, which has a virtual monopoly on feed imports, and seems unwilling to provide the affordable Non-GM feedstuffs available to farmers in other European countries .
Back in 2007, the Irish Government adopted a weaker policy "to seek to negotiate to declare the island of Ireland as a GMO-free zone", but the two opt-out clauses did not inspire conviction; failure to define the implications of the policy for GM animal feed created confusion in the farming sector  and the Government failed to even draft any related legislation to implement the policy. That said, Ireland did stop voting in favour of new GMOs in Brussels and has since joined the majority of EU member states which back an Austrian proposal for the EU Commission to allow national bans on GM crops . In response to this move, the EU Commission indicated its willingness to consider national bans earlier this year .
Although Ireland's new affirmative GM-free policy unambiguously aims to ban both commercial release as well as field trials of GM crops, it requires implementing legislation in the Republic, as well as Northern Ireland to prevent contamination from across the border .
A label that means what it says
O'Callaghan said the Irish GM-free label for algae, meat, poultry, eggs, crustaceans, fish, and dairy produce should set a higher standard than the existing German and proposed French labels, which mislead consumers by allowing GM-free claims for animal produce from livestock whose diet has included large amounts of GM feedstuffs for varying periods before they are converted into food :
"Ireland's GM-free label should mean what it says, i.e. no feeding of any GM-labelled feedstuffs during the entire life of the animal. Specifically, the label should guarantee that the animal has been fed either on plant materials for which no GMO varieties exist, or on fodder crops that contain no GMO ingredients above the generally accepted detection level of 0.1 per cent. To avoid misleading consumers, the EU should to adopt a credible GM-free labelling regulation of this kind for the whole single market, instead of allowing individual member state to set their own standards, which can be not only confusing, but also deceptive. The Irish Government is now in a position to lead on this."
Jochen Koester, a leading soy industry adviser who runs TraceConsult in Geneva, Switzerland, said: "The Irish Government's decision is very timely and deserves congratulations. In a very natural way, this will increase the Irish farmers' demand for Non-GMO animal nutrition that permits GMO-free claims on the final animal product. Increased import volumes and lower per-tonne logistics costs will bring down the price of certified Non-GMO imported soy meal. Irish farmers can thus soon join the ranks of "GMO-free" producers from Austria, Germany and France. This enhanced supplier platform will also create a lot more clout for all players in the Non-GMO food and feed industries." 
In London, the Irish Michelin-starred celebrity chef and TV host Richard Corrigan laughed out loud when he heard the news at his Bentley's Mayfair restaurant, adding that "the eyes of Europe will now gaze with envy on Ireland!" (Corrigan created a stir in Irish farming circles earlier this year when he denounced Bord Bía [the Irish Food Board] on his TV programme for providing its Quality Assurance label to meat and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM feedstuffs which are excluded from such labels in more food-savvy EU countries ).
Reacting to the announcement in Rome, Greenpeace EU GMO Policy Director Marco Contiero said "Greenpeace welcomes this decision by the Irish Government. It puts an additional brake on the global expansion of the risky, unproven and costly technology of genetically modified agriculture. Ireland's GM-free policy answers the serious concerns which European consumers have on GM food, and will allow Irish retailers and businesses to be rewarded for the good quality produce they bring to the market." 
Commenting from the USA, the Executive Director of the Non-GMO Project  Megan Thompson said "Ireland has taken a truly inspiring step towards ensuring consumers' right to choose non-GMO products... As more and more companies in the USA and Canada are looking for non-GMO ingredients, this is a very timely move and we look forward to developing sourcing opportunities with GM-free producers in Ireland."
Speaking for GM-Free Cymru in Wales, Dr Brian John said: "We congratulate the Irish Government on this very bold step, which is underpinned by sound science and by a proper regard for the precautionary principle. It is also a very smart commercial move which will give Ireland a competitive advantage. We hope that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will now follow suit by making similar declarations and by showing the Westminster government that its slavish adherence to a pro-GM agenda is scientifically untenable and out of step with the public mood." 
In Brussels, Friends of the Earth Europe's GMO campaign co-ordinator Helen Holder said "All around Europe, countries are putting up bans or other limits to growing genetically modified crops and the Irish government is to be congratulated. The EU should drop genetically modified food and crops, and instead support green farming which is good for the economy and for the planet". 
Notes available on request