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News : Innovation Last Updated: Aug 24, 2010 - 11:45:44 AM

Global Irish Economic Forum and branding Ireland: Green Party minister Eamon Ryan is both for and against science
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Oct 14, 2009 - 8:09:58 AM

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Green Party minister, Eamon Ryan, talks to the media on Saturday, Oct 10, 2010, following a decision by Green Party members to adopt a new Government programme, including a plan to declare Ireland a GM (genetically modified) free food zone.  

Global Irish Economic Forum: The Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday issued a report on the proceedings of the diaspora meeting last month at Farmleigh House in Dublin, where science policy and branding Ireland got a lot of focus. Green Party minister Eamon Ryan promoted "green tech" initiatives at the gathering but he appears to be both for and against science given his support for pandering to ignorance by seeking to have Ireland declared a country where all food items linked to genetic modification (GM) will be banned.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said on Tuesday, that he has decided to establish a new Global Irish Network made up of those invited to Farmleigh and other"leading business figures in our global community."

Maybe something good could also be usefully learned from people who do not merit the tag "leading"  - - particularly by small firms seeking to export, which is very challenging at the best of times as it's a different line of experience to those who have made their careers in multinationals. I have been on both sides of the fence.

"This network will give greater strategic focus to our economic and cultural promotional work abroad. It will also help maintain the sense of enthusiasm and momentum generated at Farmleigh," Martin said. "It is my intention to establish an Advisory Board made up of a representative group of those who attended the Forum to assist with the work of this Network and advise on other issues related to matters discussed at Farmleigh. Further details of this Network and how it will operate will be released shortly."

While there are some useful proposals, it seems bizarre that Green Party ministers would seek to brand Ireland  as anti-science, when the same people would view climate change deniers with contempt.

Besides with the emphasis on innovation, many forget that Ireland's strength is in food and while some selfish Europeans can afford in the short-term to ignore the need for advances in crop productivity to feed a growing population, one would expect better from government ministers.

SEE: Finfacts article Sept 26, 2009: Ireland: A "smart" economy in food better than pie-in-the-sky aspirations?

SEE: Finfacts article Oct 20, 2009: Germany's Food & Beverage sector star of crisis -- exports up 15% in 2008; Good news continues

Declaring Ireland a GM-free zone is pandering to ignorance.

Like neutrality, and nuclear-free declarations, it would of course provide comfort to those who are sustained on empty slogans.

The recently deceased Norman Borlaug, the “father of the Green Revolution” made the point that no current crops are as they were even 50 years ago, much less a millennium ago. Farmers and scientists have always experimented with ways of cross-breeding plants to make them more durable and able to produce more food and profits in shorter periods. That they used hybridisation techniques rather than gene splicing makes no difference to the safety of the finished product.

In years ahead, Greens will be eating GM foods and Ireland will be importing nuclear generated electricity from the UK.

SEE: Finfacts article Sept 14, 2009: Norman Borlaug - - Father of Green Revolution - - dies; Credited with saving more lives than any other person who has ever lived

"They claim that the consumer is being poisoned out of existence by the current high-yielding systems of agricultural production and recommend we revert back to lower-yielding, so-called sustainable technologies," Dr. Borlaug said in a speech in New Orleans in 1993.

Unfortunately, he said, it is not possible to turn the clock back to the 1930s, when the population of the world was 2.2 billion. It was estimated at 5.6 billion in 1995 and was projected to rise to 8.3 billion by 2025.

Anti-multinational sentiment has been a big factor in the scaremongering about GM food. Of course, the US firm Monsanto shouldn't have the potential of a monopoly on global seed production but in Europe, the anti-science environmentalists have politicians on the run and public research institutes are subject to threats of violence to prevent them from engaging in research.

In fact, these people are more dangerous than the anti-science climate change deniers.

Despite the scaremongering and the violence to prevent scientific experimentation - - - in June 2008 for example, 35 masked intruders destroyed genetically modified wheat being tested by researchers at a public research facility, near Zurich and threatened staff with harm - - there is no evidence that GM foods have had any negative impact on human health.

The Irish Government's Chief Scientific Adviser Prof Patrick Cunningham, who has  issued a formal report to the Government on GM foods, which looked at safety, benefits and risks, in July 2008 told an Oireachtas Committee that he believed GM was of value to Ireland: "The answer has to be yes," he said.

"[ GM] is not going to go away and it is advancing at a hell of a rate," he said. Countries around the world were growing about 100 million hectares of GM corn, cotton, soyabean and rice.

Genetic modifications impart resistance to herbicides and insect attack, providing cost and yield improvement for the farmer, he said. "This has given a tremendous competitive advantage to those using [ GM]."

Speaking in the wake of food giant Nestlé's call for the European Union to review its opposition to GM, Sir David King, former UK Chief Scientific Adviser told the Financial Times in early July 2008: "There is only one technology likely to deliver [the yield increases needed] and that is GM."

A Financial Times report last year said that while today’s GM crops are designed to resist what scientists call “biotic stress” - -  pests and weeds - -  the second generation, currently under development, will focus on “abiotic stress”. This encompasses non-biological factors such as drought and floods, heat and cold, salinity and acidity. The biggest research effort is to make plants use water more efficiently.

“Abiotic stress reduces yield in major crops by 65-80 per cent,”says Michael Metzlaff, head of crop productivity for Bayer of Germany. His company’s experiments show that “gene silencing” technology can reduce the production of a key enzyme called Parp, which controls plants’ response to stress. As a result the plant grows better under adverse conditions. Companies plan to launch drought-resistant maize varieties between 2012 and 2015. Chris Zinselmeier, head of water optimisation research for Syngenta of Switzerland, says the aim is to produce a strain that yields better than conventional maize in drought years but “carries no yield penalty when water is plentiful”.

In addition to drought resistance, the industry is working on several other traits. One product, Syngenta’s Corn Amylase, shows how GM could help the biofuels industry. It is maize genetically modified to produce high levels of an enzyme, alpha amylase, that is a critical ingredient in the production of bio-ethanol. John Atkin, Syngenta’s head of crop protection, says Corn Amylase will improve the efficiency of bio-ethanol manufacturing from maize by 5-10 per cent.

Monsanto is meanwhile working on adding genes that enable crops to use nitrogen more efficiently. Nitrogen fertilisers represent one of the largest input costs in agriculture: in the US alone, farmers spend more than $3bn a year applying nitrogen fertilisers to maize fields and at least half of the nitrogen is wasted because it is not taken up by the crop.

Well-fed anti-GM campaigners in Europe are unlikely to be impressed by the latest developments. Extremists can always Google to find some argument to support their prejudices and their familiarity with tropical countries may only extend to packaged or backpacker holidays.

Jacques Diouf, the director-general of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said in Rome on Monday, that world population is projected to rise to 9.1 billion in 2050 from a current 6.7 billion, requiring a 70-per cent increase in farm production. In addition to a growing scarcity of natural resources such as land, water and biodiversity "global agriculture will have to cope with the effects of climate change, notably higher temperatures, greater rainfall variability and more frequent extreme weather events such as floods and droughts," he said.

Climate change would reduce water availability and lead to an increase in plant and animal pests and diseases. The combined effects of climate change could reduce potential output by up to 30 per cent in Africa and up to 21 per cent in Asia, the FAO Chief noted.

"The challenge is not only to increase global future production but to increase it where it is mostly needed and by those who need it most," he stressed.
"There should be a special focus on smallholder farmers, women and rural households and their access to land, water and high quality seeds... and other modern inputs."

Food production would also face increasing competition from the biofuel market "which has the potential to change the fundamentals of agricultural market systems," with production set to increase by nearly 90 per cent over the next 10 years to reach 192 billion litres by 2018.

So the Irish Green Party wants an Irish solution by being anti-science in stunting Ireland's food potential, while being pro-science by jumping on the renewables bandwagon. Would these well-off people such as Green leader Gormley, and Ryan, tell those who suffer the impact of climate change, to go and eat cake, rather than use remedies provided by biotechnology?

Are these people fools or just the latest brand of Irish cute hoors?

Maybe that and the broken political system would merit a place on the agenda of the next diaspora forum.

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