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Synthesis/Regeneration 19   (Spring 1999)

GE Actions by the Irish Green Party

by Paula Giles, Irish Green Party/Comhaontas Glas National Spokesperson for Food and Agriculture

The Green Party in Ireland has been at the forefront of the campaign against genetic engineering in Ireland. The combination of environmental activism and political activity that Green Party members in Ireland operate meant that we knew the importance of the application to grow sugar beet which Monsanto had tucked away in a small provincial paper. The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) was being asked to allow the first tests for a genetically engineered crop in Ireland. Having lodged objections to the applications just before the deadline, we decided to build our campaign based on as much factual evidence as possible. Thanks to the immediate support and responses from various people around the world, we have proven to be the bump which the Monsanto steam-roller could not flatten on its way to world domination of the food chain. It has been a great privilege to be able to build links over the past two years with many people around the globe, most memorably at the 1998 Grassroots Gathering on Biodevastation, hosted in St. Louis by the Gateway Greens.

As a member of a residents' association which has campaigned for many years against the biggest Genetically-engineered pharmaceutical factory (Schering-Plough) in the world , we were well aware that the E.P.A. in Ireland does not have any responsibility for monitoring or for any effects of an industrial activity outside the factory site. This act of gross omission has been confirmed by the E.P.A. -and applies to licenses to grow experimental GE crops.

The E.P.A. also refused to hold an oral hearing or indeed any form of public debate on the licenses issued for GE test sites in Ireland, and have followed consistently their record of doing the bare minimum as required by law, acceding to any request by the pharmachem industry which they have discretion on.

In fact, in Ireland even if a company breaches its Environmental Pollution Licence, the E.P.A. considers that company still to be in compliance with the license conditions if it 'tries to be' in compliance! We also supported the setting up of an organization called Genetic Concern, which is now the main N.G..O. campaigning on GE crops and food. When they went to court last year, they were effectively told by the judge that even though their concerns were genuine and well- founded, the court could only rule on matters such as whether the deadlines were adhered to by the E.P.A.

As part of the Green Group in the Parliament, they have been successful in eroding some of the more extreme ambitions of the genetic industry . . .

Meanwhile, on foot of a complaint lodged by the Green Party, the Director for Consumer Affairs accepts that the European Labeling regulations mean that many GE products will go unlabelled. However, she refuses to take any action against the supermarkets who state in their leaflets, based on the European regulations, that the customer is getting full information in order to enable them to make a full and informed choice! Our government is also hiding behind Euro Directives, but have found themselves dogged by the blatant reneging on their pre-election promise to introduce a moratorium on GE crops and food, while at the same time reciting all the concerns about the technology.

However, our two elected representatives in the Irish national Parliament (Dail) have been successful in raising questions, accessing information, putting pressure on the government and generally showing up the duplicity of our government ministers.

Currently the Irish Green Party also has 2 out of the 15 Irish Members of the European Parliament. Both have been an unsettling influence on the cozy consensus. Nuala Ahern, our M.E.P. from the Leinster constituency (i.e. a quarter of the Irish population), has been very active in exposing the lobbying collusion between the vested interests and the European Commission who make the regulations. As part of the Green Group in the Parliament, they have been successful in eroding some of the more extreme ambitions of the genetic industry, such as in the Patenting Directive, and have exposed many of the loopholes in up-coming legislation.

Industry has now given up their lie that GE crops will have no effect on the environment . . .

In Ireland and Europe, the industry have now given up their lie that GE crops will have no effect on the environment, so we have the charming scenario of proponents telling us how much damage we should be prepared to accept, in return for promises which are getting progressively more vague. This is very reminiscent of the argument of how much poison we should admit into our rivers and atmosphere or, as the E.P.A. would term it, "the assimilative capacity of the receiving waters (and air)."

With this constant undermining of both the democratic and the regulatory processes, it is hardly surprising that people around the world are taking matters into their own hands literally! There have been a number of minor incidents in Ireland, including two instances of sabotage on the GE sugar-beet crops. On February 9, 1999 seven protesters are due to appear in court to answer charges of damage allegedly caused after a 1998 protest meeting. The fascinating aspect of this case is that whereas virtually no damage was done, Monsanto is putting it about that the majority of the crop was destroyed by those summonsed. Despite numerous cameras, videos, and observers at the scene, Monsanto has changed its story a number of times.

We have also just taken part in the first public conference on GE crops and food, which was held in Skibereen. Not only was this packed by hundreds of people for two and a half days, but it also spent a whole day putting forward the case for non-GE agriculture, particularly organic farming.

This is very much in line with the Green philosophy of self-reliance and local self-sufficiency. In Ireland, the Green Party is putting forward the policy that as an island nation we have a huge potential to be a GMO-free zone. Of course, the GE industry is aware of the growing (pun unintended!) impact which an alternative product has world-wide, which accounts for the aggressive attempts to dilute the organic standards.

As a nation repeatedly colonized through our history, we are also very conscious of the legacy of domination by major powers. This history has also helped us establish links with many developing countries and our knowledge thus acquired has imbued us with an in-built understanding of the causes of poverty and hunger in other areas of the world - and with the ability to dismiss claims that GE will provide the panacea for those problems.

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