Dáil debates

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Other Questions

Genetically Modified Organisms.

3:00 pm

Photo of Shane McEnteeShane McEntee (Meath, Fine Gael)
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Question 6: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food the plans her Department has to evaluate the economic implications of the use of genetically modified organisms; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8801/07]

Photo of Mary WallaceMary Wallace (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Meath, Fianna Fail)
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As the Deputy may be aware, an interdepartmental-inter-agency working group was established within the Department in 2003 to develop proposals for a national strategy and best practices to ensure the co-existence of GM crops with conventional and organic farming. That group presented us with its final report and recommendations in December 2005 which, inter alia, recommended that a combination of mandatory and voluntary measures are best to meet the objective of implementing the co-existence of GM crops alongside non-GM crops in Irish agriculture.

In order to capture the widest range of views on the issue, we arranged to have the report and its recommendations placed on the Department's website and invited observations from the general public. We are currently engaged in the process of considering the submissions received in light of the recommendations made and the ongoing international developments in this area, particularly relating to thresholds for organic produce. Draft legislation is currently being prepared in the Department to give effect to the mandatory measures proposed. We hope to be in a position to bring forward such measures to Government in the near future.

On the issue of economic evaluation, part of the group's work programme was to examine the economic implications of co-existence. Based on work carried out by Teagasc, as part of its ongoing programme of research investigating the potential risks and benefits associated with the growing of GM crops in Ireland, including, inter alia, the economic implications, indications were that the cultivation of certain crops with certain modifications may provide a financial incentive to the individual Irish farmer. While strands of this research paralleled completed work in other countries, it did not specifically address the costs associated with the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops.

The general conclusion of Danish and UK research on the economic impact of co-existence on farm profitability was that the costs of complying with the required thresholds for crops of maize, potatoes, cereals, oilseed rape and sugar beet vary from 0% to 9% above the costs of growing conventional crops.

However, we wanted to establish greater clarity in the matter as far as Irish conditions were concerned. Consequently, the Minister requested Teagasc to carry out a study to evaluate the possible national economic implications for the agrifood industry in Ireland from the use of GMOs in crop and livestock production. Teagasc based its study on the following scenarios: the economic implications of only allowing the importation into Ireland of certified GM-free soyabean and maize livestock feed ingredients; and the economic implications of GM-free crop cultivation in Ireland.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

In the first scenario, the study showed that substantial additional costs would be placed on the livestock sector, particularly on specialist dairy and beef farmers, if they were to use only certified GM-free soya and maize in feedingstuffs.

In the second scenario, the study examined five hypothetical GM crops which could be grown here — herbicide tolerant sugar beet, Septoria resistant winter wheat, Fusarium resistant winter wheat, Rhyncosporium resistant spring barley and blight resistant potatoes. This study showed that increased profits could be generated for growers of these crops compared to their conventional equivalent. However, the study showed that there is a significant cost in regard to identity preservation for conventional growers in a co-existence arrangement.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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Is it not the case that the study showed there were significant cost implications in regard to conventional growers? Why was an evaluation of the economic impact on the marketing of Irish food abroad on the basis of being GM-free or of going down the route of importing and using GM crops or import feed not considered? Is this not the fundamental issue that must be answered in respect of GM crops in Ireland from an economic perspective?

Photo of Mary WallaceMary Wallace (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Meath, Fianna Fail)
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In respect of GM feed, I must clarify that the exclusion from the Irish market of GM maize and soya beans would result in a significant cost to the animal production sector. I understand 95% of our imports of soya and maize are GM feedstuffs.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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The figure is 97%.

Photo of Mary WallaceMary Wallace (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Meath, Fianna Fail)
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Yes. Undoubtedly, the price of feed would increase costs for livestock producers.

As for the issue of a possible ban, we must be careful in this regard because once a GM crop has been approved for growing within the Community, EU law prevents us from banning it. We cannot legislate or prevent the growing of approved GM crops.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Hungary did.

Photo of Mary CoughlanMary Coughlan (Minister, Department of Agriculture and Food; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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It is in the dock for so doing.

Photo of Mary WallaceMary Wallace (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Meath, Fianna Fail)
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We are obliged to introduce coexisting arrangements to protect existing non-GM arrangements. The Irish position on GMOs is positive but precautionary.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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May I have an answer?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy should allow Deputy Upton to speak.

Photo of Mary UptonMary Upton (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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My question is essentially the same as Deputy Naughten's. The study from Teagasc did not consider a scenario in which 100% of crop and livestock producers were not engaged in GMO production.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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What is the Deputy's question?

Photo of Mary UptonMary Upton (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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Why was this not considered as a positive advantage for Ireland as a marketing tool? Were we in a position to state that if crops were produced without reference to GMO, there would be opportunities and improved market conditions.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Sargent may ask a brief question, to be followed by the Minister of State's final reply.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Does the Minister of State accept that a mandate was given to the Government for Ireland to be GM-free in the 1997 election manifesto on which it stood before the people? Is there any basis for this now? Does the Government respect the local authorities which have decided democratically that their areas should be GM-free? Does it respect the Hungarian decision that I mentioned? It is a GM-free decision that the Council of Ministers decided to uphold. Moreover, Austria, Italy and Greece——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Brevity, please.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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——all have regions that have been declared to be GM-free. Will the Minister of State explain how such countries are able to have a GM-free standing, while the Government does not appear to be able to pursue such an option in Ireland?

Photo of Mary WallaceMary Wallace (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Meath, Fianna Fail)
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To be clear, the Commission has taken a stance against this. It is contrary to EU law. We must be mindful that we operate within such law in this regard. As to whether we could decide to take the voluntary route, perhaps we could.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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We should.

Photo of Mary WallaceMary Wallace (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Meath, Fianna Fail)
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However, this would necessitate everyone moving forward voluntarily rather than the imposition of a ban. We cannot impose a ban because we operate under EU law. Moreover, regardless of whether one wants to, one must bear in mind the increased costs to the Irish animal production sector that would arise following the imposition of a ban on the importation of GM foods. In addition to the expense of such a measure, difficulties would arise in accessing non-GM crops. It has become increasingly difficult to source non-GM maize and, in particular, non-GM soya. The proportion of these crops grown from GM varieties will continue to increase. Non-GM maize and soya will become more expensive.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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GM will become more expensive.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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I received no answer.