Blog: Katy AskewGMO opposition mounts as Northern Ireland reveals bans

Katy Askew | 22 September 2015

Opposition to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food continues to prove a controversial issue.

On the one hand, large swathes of the scientific community argue that such practices are necessary to feed the world's ever growing population. On the other, environmentalists and the public at large worry that the use of GMOs could have unforeseen consequences for human health and the world at large. And, of course, at the same time GM seeds are big business and the likes of Monsanto are throwing their lobbing dollars at the issue.

A growing body of regulators, however, seems to be erring on the side of caution. Russia looks set to ban the use of GMOs in food production altogether – although the country will continue to allow the cultivation of GMOs for research purposes. France has already opted-out of EU rules allowing GMO cultivation for crops such as maize. And, today (22 September), it emerged that Northern Ireland is set to follow Scotland in the UK and use devolved powers to prevent GMOs being grown on its soil.

Northern Ireland's Minister for the Environment Mark Durkan said: "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.”

While a “clean green” image is certainly a valuable commodity, does this offset the potential increase in revenue from higher crop yields? Or is this an issue of conscience over cash? Whatever the answer, with more consumers worldwide eschewing GMO products, it is clear that some regulators are willing to bet that a no-GMO policy will have economic as well as environmental benefits.

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