IRISH CATTLE AND SHEEP FARMERS ASSOCIATION
ASKS GOVERNMENT FOR GM-FREE IRELAND POLICY
Dublin, 17 June 2004 ï Global Vision Consulting Ltd.
The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) today called on the Government to pursue an all-Ireland GM-free policy as part of an integral strategy to leverage Ireland's green image and boost our share of farm exports. ICSA Rural Development Chairman John Heney said "our island status provides an unique opportunity for a credible GM-free policy for high value beef and lamb export markets."
GM-free Ireland Network co-ordinator Michael O'Callaghan said "Our stakeholders welcome this timely move to protect the future of Irish farming. Having examined the pros and cons of genetic engineering, the ICSA has now joined the growing network of Irish farming organisations, food businesses and NGOs who realise that keeping Ireland GM free provides the most important way to protect the economic future of Irish farmers and food producers. We hope the government will take heed and reconsider its hardline pro-GM policy in the interests of farmers, food producers, consumers and the environment."
Members of the GM-free Ireland Network (www.gmfreeireland.org) now include the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, the Restaurants Association of Ireland, the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association, Irish Farmers Markets, Slow Food Ireland, Euro-Toques Ireland / the European Commission of Chefs, the Irish Seed Savers Association, the Irish Doctors Environmental Association, Sustainable Ireland and other groups. At a GM-free Ireland workshop in April, Irish Farmers Association Deputy President Ruaidhri Deasy said "The IFA's stance on GMOs is: Keep GM products out of Ireland; we don't need them, we certainly can't pay for them, and our customers don't want them."
In its press release today, ICSA President Malcolm Thompson said "the single most important challenge for Irish agriculture is to build on the momentum of increased demand for Irish beef and lamb by strengthening our image as Ireland - the food island. We need to capitalise on a green image, and tap into the demand for natural products." Food industry observers say the global demand for GM-free seeds, animal feed and food may soon outstrip supply due to widespread GM contamination of farmland in the USA, Argentina, Canada and China. This gives Ireland an opportunity to leverage our green image and corner our share of the growing market for the safe GM-free food which some 80% of EU consumers now demand.
ICSA rural development chairman John Heney explained that if Ireland wishes to be a leading supplier of beef and lamb to the highest value EU markets, then it is vital to listen and respond to European consumer concerns. "Surveys clearly show that the majority of EU consumers are strongly opposed to any use of genetically modified organisms, whether as part of food for humans or as part of the diet of animals destined for meat production. This is a vital message which cannot be ignored if we wish to successfully market Irish beef."
Mr Heney added that Ireland, as an island cut off from mainland Europe has a unique opportunity to put forward a GM free policy which will be highly credible. "Because of our island status, we can realistically claim to be GM free, without risk of contamination from other EU countries that may take a different approach to GM."
Mr. O'Callaghan points out that Ireland is ideally positioned to become a GM-free biosafety reserve for the food security of other EU member states because we are: (1) upwind from most transboundary GM pollen contamination (80% of our wind blows from the Atlantic), (2) geographically isolated and surrounded by water, and (3) we probably have the lowest previous GM exposure in Europe.
Mr Heney said "we have examined the implications of GM free production for competitiveness and ICSA is happy that the overall best interests of Irish farmers will be determined primarily by our ability to sell beef and lamb in high value markets. He pointed out that since the cost of GM free animal feed is only marginally higher than the usual product fed to Irish livestock (which normally contains substantial amounts of GM soya and GM corn gluten), a GM-free Ireland policy ìwould actually boost demand for home grown cereals such as barley and wheat. In this way, a GM free policy is positive for both Irish meat producers and Irish tillage farmers."
This win-win approach was echoed by Irish Farmers Association Ruaidhri Deasy who said there is no problem for Irish farmers to grow completely GM-free animal feed (including grass, rolled barley, oats, and peas) for their sheep, cattle and milk cows, as he does on his own farm in Co. Tipperary. Although the EU GM labelling laws now in effect do not require meat and dairy products from animals fed on GM feedstuffs to be labelled as such, informed consumers want a completely GM-free food chain and leading retailers such as Marks & Spencer guarantee their fresh meat and dairy products are sourced from animals who have been fed a totally GM-free diet.
The ICSA announcement came on the heels of the first enlarged-EU decision on GM issues made yesterday (16 June), when the 25 European member governments blocked the import of Monsanto's controversial herbicide resistant GM rapeseed (Canola) which has contaminated all conventional rapeseed farmers in Canada, amidst allegations of a cover-up of health and contamination risks by Monsanto. Remarkably, Ireland (which normally votes for GM products) abstained, along with Germany, Spain and Slovenia, and 6 new EU government voted against. The governments which voted to block the GM food included Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, and the UK. Monsanto's application will now go back to the European Commission who must decide whether to push for a vote by Ministers or not. GM-free Ireland says it hopes the government will vote against the introduction of the GM rapeseed, which would invevitably contaminate Irish farms and contribute to the proliferation of herbicide resistant superweeds if allowed anywhere on this island.
Commenting on the EU vote, Friends of the Earth Europe GMO Coordinator Geert Ritsema said "This is an important result for ëNew Europe'. This vote shows that the US cannot count on the new member states to follow their policies in the area of genetically modified food. Member States have put the safety of European citizens and their environment before the financial interests of biotech giants like Monsanto and their friends in the White House. The European Commission should now follow suit and reject GM foods until their safety can be proven."
It's clear the global market for safe GM free food is growing daily. ICSFA now wants the government to support for a GM-free Ireland policy and to actively pursue such a policy with its counterparts in Northern Ireland.
NOTES TO EDITORS
Download full text of ICSA policy document
For more information about the ICSA, visit www.icsaireland.com.
For details on the EU rejection of Monsanto's GM rapeseed, visit www.foeeurope.org/press/2004/GR_16_june_US_food.htm.
For background on the GM-free Ireland campaign, visit www.gmfreeireland.org.
Attribution: Michael O'Callaghan
Co-ordinator, GM-free Ireland Network ‚ www.gmfreeireland.org
Chairman, Global Vision Consulting Ltd ‚ www.global-vision.com
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