EPA Gives Consent For GM Potato Field Trials

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given consent to Teagasc to carry out field trials on a genetically modified (GM) potato line with improved resistance to late potato blight.

In assessing the application the EPA has carried out extensive consultations with all appropriate state agencies and government departments including the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) as well as the National Advisory Committee on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

A total of 83 representations were received from interested parties and these were fully assessed as part of the licensing process.

The field trials will be carried out at one location at Oak Park, CountyCarlow. The duration of the consent is for four years, from 2012 to 2016 (inclusive), with post-trial monitoring continuing until 2020. Planting will not exceed two hectares in area.

Under the EPA consent, the trials will be subject to strict conditions with regular monitoring and reporting to the EPA. The trial sites will also be checked for compliance with the licence conditions on a regular basis by the EPA.

Teagasc will also be required to submit bimonthly reports to the EPA during the growing season as well as an end of year report. Information about the trials including the results of monitoring will be available to the public at EPA Headquarters in Wexford and on the EPA website.

A three-month period during which a judicial review can be sought has now commenced.

Late blight is a very common disease in potatoes grown inIreland.  Many plant pathologists consider it to be the most dangerous potato plant disease in the world because of how rapidly it can spread when conditions are warm and moist, causing devastating losses.

In recent years, more aggressive potato blight strains have emerged, in particular the sexual form of the fungus which can produce oospores (a type of spore), which can overwinter in the soil and which has the potential to infect potatoes at an early stage (plant emergence). On foot of this, control measures have resulted in potato growers being forced to substantially increase the amount of chemicals to control the disease.

According to data published by scientists at Teagasc, Oak Park, annual losses due to this fungus in Ireland have been estimated at €15m per annum and the management of this potato disease requires as many as 15 fungicide applications throughout the growing season in order to control crop losses caused by the fungus and to control this plant pathogen.

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