Ireland is proceeding to test a genetically modified potato, but is making certain that the public understands that it is doing so to make sure it’s safe for the environment and so that anti-GM activists will seem less threatened by a public research project that is not associated with the biotechnology industry establishment.

Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority, was awarded a license by the EPA to proceed with field research into a GM potato that could resist potato blight, a disease that was responsible of the infamous potato famines in the country. The research is expected to take place over the next four years to determine what environmental impacts the potato could have on Irish agriculture.

The research project is part of the 22 partner “AMIGA” consortium, which represents 15 EU countries and is funded by EU’s Framework 7 research program. This is a publically funded research project.

 “The field study will be isolated from the on-going conventional potato breeding program that has been successfully running at Oak Park for over 40 years,” said John Spink, head of crops research in Teagasc. “There are no linkages to the biotech industry on this matter so Teagasc are clear that their work is not about testing the commercial viability of GM potatoes. The GM study is about gauging the environmental impact of growing GM potatoes in Ireland and monitoring how the pathogen, which causes blight, blight and the ecosystem, reacts to GM varieties in the field over several seasons.”

Even though potato blight has been around for hundreds of years, it is still destroying potato crops and thwarting science’s best efforts to find improved control methods. Farmers continue struggling to control blight disease in the 2012 potato crop. While the agronomic benefits of using GM to deliver novel control strategies for late blight disease are clear, the intractable debate that has taken place between the proponents and opponents of GM, continues to highlight the public’s wish for further, impartial information on the potential impact of GM crops in Ireland.