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Crops in Ballyhornan, Northern Ireland. (Photo: Philip Ray/flickr/cc)

With New Ban on Cultivation, Northern Ireland Joins EU's Anti-GMO Ranks

Environment minister expresses "concern" that growing GMOs would tarnish nation's "clean and green image"

Deirdre Fulton

Yet another European nation has banned genetically modified (GM or GMO) crops, with Northern Ireland's Minister for the Environment Mark Durkan declaring Monday: "I remain unconvinced of the advantages of GM crops and I consider it prudent to prohibit their cultivation here for the foreseeable future."

"We are perceived internationally to have a clean and green image," Durkan told the BBC. "I am concerned that the growing of GM crops, which I acknowledge is controversial, could potentially damage that image."

He added: "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."

The European Union said earlier this year that its 28 member states could adopt their own positions on the issue. Each regional assembly within the UK is making its own decision. Scotland and Germany both banned GM crops in August.

Before GM crops can be grown in the EU, they have to be authorized. The European Commission has so far approved dozens of GMOs for crops including maize, soybean, cotton, oilseed rape, and carnations—sparking condemnation from environmentalists who say doing so is a gift to corporations and a slap in the face to democracy.

"European citizens do not want GMOs," food safety spokesperson for the Greens in the European Parliament, Bart Staes, said in April. "The Commission must stop ignoring this fact. We need an EU authorization scheme that takes account of this opposition and we are concerned that...proposals from the Commission merely aim to make it easier to get GMOs authorized at EU level by providing member states with the 'carrot' of a legally-dubious opt-out."

No GM crops are currently being grown commercially in the UK but imported products such as soy are used for animal feed.

According to EcoWatch, "Northern Ireland—population, 1.8 million humans—is home to 1.5 million cows, nearly 2 million sheep and 20 million chickens and despite the new ban, all of that livestock will continue to be fed, in large part, with imported GMO feed."


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