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Science doesn't support growing GM crops, says Mark Durkan as ban ushered in

By Linda Stewart

Published 22/09/2015

Mark H Durkan
Mark H Durkan

The Environment Minister says the science to support the growing of GM crops doesn't exist.

Mark H Durkan was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph in the wake of his decision to ban the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops in Northern Ireland for the "foreseeable future".

The move follows an EU decision earlier this year to allow member states to opt out of growing approved GM crops within their territories.

Mr Durkan warned that allowing the controversial technology to be used in Northern Ireland would damage the region's clean and green image internationally.

"I remain unconvinced of the advantages of GM crops, and I consider it prudent to prohibit their cultivation here for the foreseeable future," Mr Durkan said.

"The pattern of land use here and the relatively small size of many agricultural holdings creates potential difficulties if we were to seek to keep GM and non-GM crops separate. I consider that the costs of doing so could potentially be significant and, in many cases, totally impractical.

"Further, we are rightly proud of our natural environment and rich biodiversity. We are perceived internationally to have a clean and green image. I am concerned that the growing of GM crops - which I acknowledge is controversial - could potentially damage that image."

The Minister denied the decision to ban GM crops is not science-based.

"I wouldn't exactly say that. I would say that it is a precautionary approach, which we should take to everything where the environment is concerned," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"While critics might argue that the science isn't there to support the ban, the science doesn't exist to allow this type of thing to proceed."

Mr Durkan said there are question marks over the potential impact of GM crops on natural resources, including potentially devastating impacts on ecosystems. If the scientific evidence emerges that would support a GM crop being approved, a future minister would not be prevented from reversing the ban, he said.

However, Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said he hoped Mr Durkan had come to his decision on the basis of sound scientific analysis, and "not based on a political calculation".

"There is a need for an open debate about GM crops. As with all policy-making, our guiding principle should be to follow the science. It should not be forgotten that Northern Ireland's intensive sector requires massive imports of grain from the US and South America to survive and compete on the world market," he said.

Last night, the Ulster Farmers Union said it recognised why the Minister had made the decision, but warned that it could create problems if the Republic of Ireland take a different approach.

France, Latvia and Greece have all announced that they are banning the growing of GM crops. Other EU member states are required to indicate their intentions by October 2.

Factfile

  • GM crops are not grown commercially in the UK, although there have been trials of GM potatoes and wheat in recent years
  • GM crops and food can enter Europe as food, biofuel or animal feed. GM food and feed must be approved by regulators and labelled but meat and dairy products from animals fed on GM feed are not required to be labelled
  • In 2011, the EU began allowing low levels of unapproved GM crops in animal feed. Large amounts of GM soya and maize are imported into Europe as animal feed. l Only one GM crop - a type of maize used for animal feed - is grown commercially in the EU

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From Belfast Telegraph