OFMdFM wakes up to take key GM decision away from Mark H Durkan…

Here’s a nice little demonstration of how Northern Irish politics actually works. SDLP Minister for the Environment decides to make NI a GM Free Zone. Why, because the EU say he must decide one way or the other. He cannot equivocate otherwise the fines start flowing.

He’s in good company. Wales and Scotland have already got there, and decided against.

But, as the BBC reports, it doesn’t end there. The semi dormant Office of First Minister and deputy First Minister [that would be the house of many Spads? – Ed] has been sufficiently roused out of its slumbers to act decisively, to review Durkan’s decision:

It is understood OFMDFM called for a review because it believed the decision was one of strategic importance, which merited Executive approval. A deadline imposed by Europe on when the decision should be taken has now expired.

Okay, great. What next? Well, nothing in the very short term. This however may indicate things are being readied for a return of a functional Executive. If/when they do how Sinn Fein have strong policy positions in favour of the Minister’s decision.

The DUP may have other ideas. Or they may not. If they fail to act, then the fines will start flowing. If they however they decide to agree and retrospectively approve the Minister’s decision, how controversial was it anyway?

Maybe I’m wrong, and SF will side with a move to open NI to GM foods. More likely this is a case of starving a political opponent of a large scale policy decision in the hopes of owning it themselves.


  • hugh mccloy

    Who is paying them to take this on ??, but also shows again how weak democracy is in N Ireland

  • Thomas Barber

    Good for Mark Durkan at least one politician is earning his wages and has the best interests of everybody in this part of Ireland on his mind when deciding important matters.

    If Sinn Fein or the DUP overturn his decision then we will all know who is pulling their strings and lining their pockets.

  • chrisjones2

    …despite the fact that we have genetically altered crops for generation with no discernible harm and this luddite decision locks NI into past technology. Does he know for example that most farmed pigs are identified by a serial codes not a breed that identifies the specific bred in / out characteristics?

  • Thomas Barber

    Being a vegetarian I wouldn’t know about pigs but I would trust these findings rather than take your word for it.

    No offense intended Chris by the way-


  • mickfealty

    Well, its pretty widespread chris, which means the economic consequences of backing Durkan’s stance are minimal I would have thought…

  • murdockp

    GM Foods were developed to ensure nations which struggled to feed their population self sufficiently could do so. Ireland with its rain can produce enough food to feed 55m people. Do we need GM food based on our ability to produce, No.
    That said, Durkan has made more bad decisions than good ones and many of the decisions he makes should be delegated to the planners and he should not be getting involved at all. In many ways he has politicalised planning in NI, Casement park has for me shown both the SDLP and SF in a negative light as they waste scare public funds on white elephant projects that even Ceaușescu would have been proud off.

    As a side note, it would be interesting to see if there is any correlation between the historic decisions made by Durkan and the financial status of the SDLP coffers, but given the way NI politics works, we will never know.

  • chrisjones2

    Yes I agree. Politics of following the sheep not leading them. Then they wonder why we pay more for goods, pay less for staff and have a lower standard of living

  • chrisjones2

    Have you actually read the articles EG if you feed rats a GM diet you can trace that in their metabolism. So what? Is that surprising>< It doesn't say its bad …just different

  • 23×7

    Ludicrous decision anyway from the anti-science brigade. Just cause Scotland and Wales want to remain in the 20th century doesn’t mean we should follow suit. Happy to see this has gone for further consideration.

  • 23×7

    Do we need to use less pesticides, Yes.

  • Ernekid

    GM food is best way of solving world hunger and malnutrition. As climate change begins to ravage our planet we will need GM crops to preserve our way of life.

  • Dan

    Take the fracking decision way from him too……..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    With the power to review ministerial decisions (especially those that may affect financial interests) residing in the OFMdFM, perhaps it would be simpler for every decision to be made entirely by that office and thereby spare us all the expense and trouble of such reviews. It might also be much simpler to remove the confusion on such decisions that having an elected assembly that might question the actions of the OFMdFM presents and to vest all power in the capable hands of two elected dictators only. Just a suggestion for these cash strapped times.

  • Zeno

    It’s good Seaan, but there is a whole charade that must be played out in government to keep the plebs believing they live in a democracy.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Smoke and mirrors, Zeno, smoke and mirrors…….

    “Democracy” (certainly in its current misnamed incarnation as this representative charade) is the current opium of the masses.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Of course the provisions of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement regarding investor/state dispute settlement (ISDS) puts our little administration is something of a quandary in this matter of genetically modified products.

    As Wikipedia quite accurately tells us:

    “The Annex on “Investors-state dispute settlement” (to TTIP) proposed to allow corporations to bring actions against governments for breach of its rights. The European Commission launched a public consultation after the draft text was leaked, which led to a number of changes. However, an updated proposed text had yet to be made publicly available.”

    Effectively, under ISDS if an international Corporation finds that its expected profitability may be injured by any regulatory measure enacted by any member state (or their devolved administrations) then under TTIP/ISDS the Corporations have the right to sue host authorities for this possible loss, even should these regulatory measures have been taken entirely in the local public interest. Corporations effectively have a carte blanche to effectively veto regulatory measures by governments as these stipulations of the treaty negates the sovereign regulatory power of any administration where a corporation may claim that such regulation may lead to any financial loss. As I understand the issue, many companies situated in the countries of this agreement, involved in developing and marketing genetically modified products and who are in a position to trade with NI would be unable to trade should Mark Durcan’s ban on GM stand. This puts the local administration in a most vulnerable position (again Wikipedia):

    “Notably, only foreign investors can sue states under investment treaties, because states are the parties to the treaty, and only states can be held liable to pay damages for breach of the treaty. States have no corresponding right to bring an original claim against a foreign investor under such treaties, again because investors are not parties to the treaty and therefore cannot be in breach of it. Thus, a decision in favour of the State means that the state has not been ordered to pay compensation, not that it has received any compensation from the investor, although costs can be awarded against the investor. A state cannot “win”……..”

    OFMdFM accordingly is perhaps attempting to avoid being sued under the rules of TTIP.

    This is yet another indication of how when it comes to matters of international finance, the balance of power has shifted decisively from elected governments to large financial organisations.

  • whatif1984true

    Niche marketing might suggest that going for high quality, organic and Non GM food would be a good move for farmers here. Alternatively they can be like all the others. Not a question of right or wrong, science vs non science just creating a brand name for the BEST. Increased affluence in the world suggests that money is available for quality food. Chasing volume is always a low margin call.

  • James7e

    Good point. And chasing lower quality/high volume (with the potential unknowns for consumer health – which could ultimately see healthcare costs rising, thus cancelling out any economic benefits anyway) has demonstrably not worked out well for farmers here and in the rest of Europe. That is aside from the fact that GMO opens up a potentially massive can of worms in terms of intellectual property and who owns crops and livestocks thus altered. It is too easy for supporters of GM to shout down the critics with insults like ‘luddite’. An informed decision is always better than an emotional one, and people here are far, far too used to the kneejerk emotional reaction. We shouldn’t give a damn which foot the minister kicks with on this and other issues – sadly, I feel that is not always the case.

  • James7e

    That’s a very bold statement – what backs it up? Is it merely a conviction that the newest science must be the bestest?

    What about simply improving irrigation techniques, and increasing the amount of land under cultivation? What about improving accessibility to artificial fertilizer in the developinf world? What about stopping subsidization of the fast food industry at the expense of sustainable local production in poorer countries? What about voluntarily reducing our own massive consumption of meat? There are alternatives to GM which do not carry the same possible (environmental and human) health dangers and definite legal ones.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Good to find myself agreeing with you James7e! the intellectual property issue is an important dash of cold water on those thinking that the old rules (“once you purchase the seed you own the crop”) still applies.

    All too many weasel methods of ensuring that the consumer makes the “correct” choose for the multinational.

  • James7e

    Science, when abused, has not always brought us positive results. Thalidomide, anybody?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The trouble, James7e, is that the world has become far less free since we successfully managed to challenge Chemie Grunenthal on the dangerous side effects of Thalidomide, and now they would be in a position to use the TTIP agreement to themselves counter-challenge any administration that had the temerity to stop them making a profit, as I’ve pointed out in my big posting above on the effect the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement will have on our ability to reject GM products.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    But do we need to eat them, no. Does the term “organic” mean anything to you, perhaps?

    In some little things the sane amongst us still have a tiny sliver of choice left.

  • James7e

    Indeed. Winning the battle only to lose the war is a very real danger in the battle to control and use science for good rather than simply hurtling along and holding onto its tail.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Increased intestinal infections
    High cholesterol
    Birth defects
    Weight-increase and higher incidence of mortality
    Organ pathologies in the liver, kidneys, pancreas, ovaries, testes, and adrenals
    Major issues with both the intestinal tracts and immunity of the animals tested”, [from Thomas Barber’s linked article].

    “It doesn’t say its bad …just different”, not the differences I’d go for by choice myself Chris, but each to their own however. Some of us might like the collapse of our health, I suppose……

  • Thomas Barber

    “GM Foods were developed to ensure nations which struggled to feed their population self sufficiently could do so”

    A worthy cause but a cause I doubt very much is on the minds of global corporations like Monsanto who are more likely to desire increased profits without so much as a care about those who would consume those same products.

  • Reader

    There are environmental costs to the use of artificial fertilizers, and to bringing more land under cultivation.
    And why would reducing agricultural subsidies increase global food production? And if it did, wouldn’t it do so through one of the mechanisms you had already listed?

  • Reader

    Hmm. Then careful and extensive trials are in order?

  • Reader

    SeaanUiNeill: Does the term “organic” mean anything to you, perhaps?
    Labour intensive and low yield. I.e. “expensive”

  • Kevin Breslin

    GM technology is relatively cheap, there’s no way Monanto could monopolise it, any more than the ancient Egyptians could monopolise wheat agriculture. Health wise I’m sure there’s a lot of garbage both produced and not we eat that are far worse than fruit with an added fish gene.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Would you also agree that over thousands of years of agriculture we already modify the genes of animals, plants, fungi by artificial breeding/cultivation and artificial health interventions and even ourselves through diet by the epigenetic forces that everything beside hunting and gathering has done to alter wild fauna and flora?

    Our pigs aren’t like wild boars, our cows aren’t like wild bulls.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Then, Reader, why is it that most of the farmers who live within five miles of where I live undertake the onerous labour and problems of low yield to maintain half acre or more kitchen gardens worked without artificial aids for their families (most use the term organic when speaking to me of this). They certainly use fertilisers for what they sell on from their normal farming practice, but notably do not eat this stuff themselves. But perhaps they are all old hippies………

    The effects of intensive farming practice on our diets is both well attested pretty obvious to anyone who has the misfortune to go into hospital. “Expensive” you say, but there are other ways of paying than simply cash. As I said at the start of the comment you answered, when pesticides are used, we will end up eating them with the consequent effect of the inevitable development of food intolerances as is clear from the steady increase of chronic digestive system inflammations such as Crohn’s disease. “It’s what you don’t know that hurts you” (as with our political/economic system itself).

  • SeaanUiNeill

    That, chris, is because since some clever economists and others floated the “Iron Lady” in order to make the denial of compassion and the praise of personal greed respectable, wealth has been shifting from the broader community to a rather ruthless elite:


    Don’t take my word for this, listen to Credit-Suisse! The Neo-Con message some here so passionately represent on their posts is something that is impoverishing each and every one of us including even the moderately wealthy. Ignore the trivial amount of crumbs grabbed hungrily by the “undeserving poor”, and the dangers posed by those bleeding hearts who oppose GM foods, it’s the boys who are copyrighting the food we eat and, in time, the very air we breathe who are making you (and sadly the rest of us) pay more for goods, are increasing their profits by paying staff less and less at every opportunity and diverting the wealth of the “you never had it so good” world we all grew up in, into their own bank accounts ensuring the steady erosion of our living standards. Have you even looked into the iniquitous provisions of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, for example:


  • SeaanUiNeill

    Reader, if you had read my posting above on the provisions of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) you would realise that no national administration here can currently act on such findings by enacting anything that a multinational can claim will diminish their profits without incurring the possibility of massive compensatory fines. No matter what trials discover, the international balance of power is now with those multinationals pushing the likes of Thalidomide. There is a plethora of loss of profits cases already concluded and pending between the U.S and Canada.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Newsprint is relatively cheap, Kevin, and yet the Murdoch Press seem to monopolise much of the world’s media. The building of monopolies relies much more in the ability of a monopoliser to marginalise and destroy his competition and to suppress free competition. With the increasing ability of international corporations to sue governments over any issue whatsoever that may affect their profitability, something increasingly becoming enshrined in trade treaties such the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which I’ve written about above, the final regulatory constraints on the bullying activities of world monopolies has effectively been lifted. The ideal even playing field has sadly been heavily fortified by those already in possession.

  • Thomas Barber

    “GM technology is relatively cheap, there’s no way Monanto could monopolise it, any more than the ancient Egyptians could monopolise wheat agriculture”

    Are these farmers telling lies ?


  • Kevin Breslin

    Newsprint is a dying industry, Fox is making a lot of its money through right wing news panels for one political demographic and comedies and cartoons that satirize it for the other political demographic. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was being kept alive more by left wing money than right wing money.

    From a devil’s advocate point of view, TIPP in terms of production is largely irrelevant here, it’s clear that many Europeans want to develop GM foods or this legislation would not be introduced. There is that other side of the coin argument that these companies would want to break Monsanto’s monopoly, pardon the pun, in the field … and they might argue TIPP is a way to make the US more European through strong competition not vice versa through prolonged protectionism while the US still profits from its other trade networks.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Come back with a scientist or economist here, rather than a vested political pressure group.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “TIPP in terms of production is largely irrelevant here”, Kevin, really? When it effectively means that Mark Durcan’s ban might involve the NI administration in a protracted legal situation where we are sued for massive loss of profits by companies already trading with us who could claim possible loss of profitability from his actions in restricting their product’s possible penetration? I’d feel this danger of possibly contravening TIPP requirements is quite central to the OFMdFM’s review.

    And while I’d agree with you about Fox to a degree, Murdoch is an enormous iceberg and Fox is only that portion above the surface, after all his ex-son in law Mathew Freud IS Cameron’s PR. I am of course coming in my assessment of media clout from Adam Curtis’s “The Century of the Self”, and I’ve had some direct experience of much of what Curtis describes from my own experiences in the media world.

    I’d still feel that my comments on the general activity of monopolies still hold true. Its about using money and power to absorb or destroy anything that might even hint competition. The number of GM copyrights already developed by US multinationals have already constricted the field for European innovators, and the trade agreements such as TIPP have given them the ability to enforce these copyrights in Europe. It may be arguable that a European development in GM actually owes nothing to a pre existent US patented “intellectual property” copyright but such arguments are taken to law and can effectively buy a would be monopoly time to outmanoeuvre such innovations, especially as they can call on quite a lot of disclosure legally. No, the even playing field for innovators is a myth, as I’ve long discovered out in my own efforts to sue a major US film company for intellectual property theft. It’s often only personal experiences such as that that can truly alert us to what arrogant power the monopolies can deploy.

  • Mary Anna Quigley

    Killing you while they reap the profits PSF -DUP nothing new quick fix money matters greedy pigs Stormont pigs

  • Reader

    If only there was some other way to introduce pest resistance into our crops, then we could reduce the use of pesticides without losing half of the crop.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Logic would suggest that the best solution would be to eat less with no poison (or any form of genetic modification that might effect our own bodies), rather than eat more and develop chronic health problems. But again, each to their own.

    I’m still forcibly reminded by your comment of that delightful film clip of John Selwyn Gummer actually eating DDT to show us all how “harmless” it was. Ho hummm……