The controversy over GMOs was re-ignited recently in Ireland when the world’s largest chemicals and biotechnology company BASF submitted an application to the EPA for permission to conduct open-air experimental field trials of genetically modified (GMO) potatoes near the Hill of Tara in Co. Meath. BASF says the potatoes may provide greater resistance to late potato blight.
The memory of the Great Famine of the 1840’s still resonates in the nation’s consciousness and potato blight is an emotive issue, so it is no surprise that the biotech industry chose a potentially blight-resistant potato as a strategic spearhead to introduce GMO crops into Ireland. Most GMO crops are intended to be immune to weedkillers or to produce their own pesticides. But many do not perform as expected, end up requiring more chemicals and produce “superweeds”. Farmers in the USA and Canada have filed class action lawsuits against GM companies in relation to GM crop failures.
Despite the growing popularity of rice and pasta, the potato still holds a very special place in the Irish diet – we love our floury spuds and eat 121 kg of potatoes per person per year, nearly 1,000 potatoes for every man, woman and child. Unless the EPA denies permission, the BASF experiment will commence this April on a farm at Arodstown, Summerhill, Co Meath for the next five years.
But the GMO potatoes would have to carry a GM label, and there is no market for GM foods in Europe. The 30 largest food brands and 30 largest retailers have a GM-free policy. Moreover, the majority of EU governments, 175 Regional governments, and over 4,500 local authorities and smaller areas prohibit the cultivation of GM crops amid mounting evidence of their health and environmental risks.
The most extraordinary thing about GMO crops is that they are patented. Under the WTO’s trade-related intellectual property rights agreement, farmers whose crops have been contaminated – often by wind-borne pollen or seed dispersal from a neighbour’s farm - no longer own their crops. Monsanto is currently pursuing 9,000 farmers for patent infringement in the USA and Canada. Most settle out of court, but the Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, whom I met last year at Slow Food’s wonderful Terra Madre conference in Turin, fought his case all the way to the Supreme Court. Monsanto demanded patent royalties for every acre of his contaminated crops, plus a million dollars in court costs. The Court admitted that Schmeiser had no intention of stealing the patented genes, but ruled that his crops now belong to Monsanto!
In this context, why has the Irish Government never voted against GM food and crops in a dozen votes in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers? Why do the Irish Farmers Association, Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association and Macra na Feirme, appear to have no policy on GM?
The Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers’ Association is one of 80 farm and food organisations that are vehemently opposed to the proposed trials on the basis they would irrevocably destroy this country’s economically valuable clean green marketing image as Ireland – The Food Island. Thousands of contamination incidents around the world make it clear that GMO crops cannot possibly “co-exist” with conventional and organic farming. We have come to a fork in the road, and the time has come to choose what kind of farming future is best for Ireland.
More blight-resistant potatoes are a desirable trait. But natural blight-resistant varieties are already available to Irish farmers, and non-GMO breeding techniques provide the only safe way to increase resistance. There is growing scientific evidence of deaths and disease attributable to GMO foods in laboratory animals and the human population. With so many independent scientists invoking the precautionary principle, and the insurance industry’s refusal to provide cover for GMO crops, the EPA should not allow this experiment to go ahead.
According to Michael Antoniou Clinical Geneticist and senior lecturer in pathology at Guys Teaching Hospital in London - ‘Once released into the environment, unlike a BSE epidemic or chemical spill, genetic mistakes cannot be contained, recalled or cleaned up, but will be passed on to all future generations’.
Once the genie is out of the bottle there is no putting it back in again.
There is also a growing concern that so many university and research institutes are funded by biotech companies. More independent research is urgently needed.
If genetically modified crops are allowed to be grown and cross-contamination becomes a reality, neither conventional nor organic farmers will be able to label their produce GM free - Ireland the Food Island will have lost its most precious and priceless marketing tool – somehow Ireland the GM Food Island doesn’t have quite the same ring to it!
Most Irish meat, poultry and dairy produce already comes from animals whose diet includes GM ingredients, but is not labelled as such because of a loophole in EU law. Whatever one’s opinion on GMOs, the reality is that if we get an allergy or an inflammation or an impaired immune system, our doctors have no way of knowing if such genetically modified food was the cause because food containing GMO’s was released onto our shelves completely unlabelled. We are all guinea pigs in this corporate experiment. This is the single most important food and health threat in our lifetime – and that of our children and grandchildren.
Potato Soup with Parsley Pesto
Most people would have potatoes and onions in the house even if the cupboards were otherwise bare, so this 'simply delicious' soup could be made at a moment's notice. While the vegetables are sweating, pop a few white buttermilk scones into the oven!
2 ozs (55g) butter
4 ozs (110g) diced onions
15 ozs (425g) peeled diced potatoes eg. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
1 generous teasp. salt
Lots of freshly ground pepper
36flozs (1L) home made chicken stock
4 fl ozs (130ml) cream or creamy milk, approx.
Parsley Pesto (see recipe)
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are just soft. Puree the soup in a blender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Thin with creamy milk to the required consistency.
Put a swirl of parsley Pesto on top of each soup before serving.
Other good things to serve with Potato soup.
1. Cut 4ozs streaky bacon into lardons (little strips) . Cook until crisp on a hot pan in a little oil. Drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle over the soup with some chopped parsley, just before serving.
2. Stir a mixture of freshly chopped herbs eg. Parsley, Chives, Thyme, Mint into about 2ozs of softly whipped cream. Put a blob on top of each bowl of soup .
3. Just fresh mint flavoured cream is also delicious, particularly if you add some freshly chopped mint to the soup just before liquidizing .
4. Dice of roast red pepper mixed with cream and coarsely chopped basil or coriander.
Potato, Chorizo & Flat Parsley Soup
3 ozs (85g) Chorizo sausage
flat parsley sprigs
Make the soup as in the master recipe. Slice the Chorizo thinly – you will need 18 slices. Cook on a medium heat on a frying pan.
Just before serving, lay three slices of Chorizo on top of each bowl of soup. Drizzle with Chorizo oil and garnish with sprigs of flat parsley.
25g (1oz) flat parsley leaves (no stalks)
1‑2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
40g (1½ozs) freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
25g (1oz) pine kernels
75ml (3 fl ozs) extra virgin olive oil
Put all the ingredients except the oil into the food processor. Whizz for a second or two, add the oil and a little salt. Taste and correct seasoning.
Potato, Carrot and Cauliflower Curry
Sophie Grigson, made this exceptionally delicious vegetable curry when she was guest chef at the school some years ago.
7 ozs (200g) small new potatoes, or waxy salad potatoes
7 ozs (200g) cauliflower florets
7 ozs (200g) carrots, sliced at an angle
4 green cardamon pods
2 dried red chillis, deseeded and broken into pieces
1 tablesp. coriander seeds
2 teasp. cumin seed
4 tablesp. desiccated coconut
1 scant teasp. grated fresh ginger
8 fl ozs (250ml) Greek style yoghurt
12 ozs (45g) butter
2 tablesp. sunflower oil
1 small onion, grated
1 oz (30g) toasted flaked almonds
1 tablesp. fresh chopped coriander leaves
Boil the potatoes in their jackets until just tender. Skin and halve. Steam or boil the cauliflower until barely cooked. Drain well. Steam or boil the carrots until barely cooked.
Split the cardamon pods and extract the seeds. Mix with coriander and cumin seeds. Dry fry in a heavy pan over a high heat until they smell of incense. Tip into a bowl. Dry fry the chilli (which makes it easier to grind) and then add the coconut and fry until pale golden, mix with the spices. Cool, grind to a powder and mix with ginger and yoghurt.
Melt the butter with oil and fry the potatoes, cauliflower and carrots briskly until patched with brown. Set aside. Add the onion to the fat and fry until golden brown, then stir in the yoghurt mixture a tablespoon at a time. Cook, stirring for 2 minutes, then stir in 2 tablespoons water, followed by the potatoes and cauliflower. Stir until piping hot, and then serve sprinkled with toasted almonds and fresh coriander leaves.
Fadge or Potato Bread
In Ulster people are passionate about fadge or potato bread. It can be cooked on a griddle, in a frying pan or in the oven.
2 lbs (900g) unpeeled 'old' potatoes eg. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
2 tablespoons flour
1 egg, preferably free range
1-2 ozs (30-55g) butter
1 tablespoon chopped Parsley, Chives and Lemon thyme, mixed, (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Bacon fat, butter or olive oil for frying
Cook the potatoes in their jackets, pull off the skin and mash right away. Add the beaten eggs, butter, flour and herbs (if using). Season with lots of salt and freshly ground pepper, adding a few drops of creamy milk if the mixture is altogether too stiff. Taste and correct the seasoning. Shape into a 2.5 cm/1 inch thick round and then cut into eighths. Dip in seasoned flour. Bake on a griddle over an open fire or fry in bacon fat or melted butter on a gentle heat. Cook the fadge until crusty and golden on one side, then flip over and cook on the other side (4-5 minutes approx each side). Serve with an Ulster fry or just on its own on hot plates with a blob of butter melting on top.
Celeriac and Potato Puree
Great with game, turkey, chicken, duck or guinea fowl.
a large celeriac, 700g (1½lb) approx.
225g (8oz) potatoes
110-175g (4-6oz) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
lemon juice to taste
Quarter, peel and cut the celeriac into 2.5cm (1inch) cubes. Cook in boiling salted water for 15 minutes approx. or until tender, drain well,
Meanwhile, scrub and boil the potatoes. Peel and put into a food processor together with the celeriac. Add the butter, chopped herbs and cream. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Taste and add a few drops of lemon juice if necessary.
Potato, Parsnip and Parsley Colcannon
Songs have been sung and poems have been written about Colcannon. It’s one of Ireland’s most famous traditional potato dishes. It’s comfort food at its very best and terrific for a party. In Dublin, parsnip colcannon was very popular, the proportion of parsnips to potato varied. Here is my version which is a big hit in Cork at any rate! Why not try a dish for St Patrick’s Day.
Serves 8 approx.
2 lbs (900g) parsnips
1 lb (450g) 'old' potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
8-10 fl oz (250-300ml) approx. creamy milk
2 tablesp. chopped scallion
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 ozs (55g) approx. butter
2 tablesp. chopped parsley
Scrub the potatoes, put them into a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are about half cooked, (15 minutes approx. for 'old' potatoes), strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put onto a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are cooked.
Peel the parsnips, and cut into chunks, cook in boiled salted water until soft. Drain and mash, keep warm.
When the potatoes are just cooked, put on the milk and bring to the boil with the scallions. Pull the peel off the potatoes, mash quickly while they are still warm and beat in enough boiling milk to make a fluffy puree. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes in the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade.) Then add in the mashed parsnip with the chopped parsley and the butter and taste for seasoning. Cover with tin foil while reheating so it doesn't get crusty on top.
Colcannon may be prepared ahead and later reheated in a moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 20-25 minutes approx.
Serve in a hot dish or with a lump of butter melting in the centre.
8 x 8 ozs (225g) old potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
Sea salt and butter
Scrub the skins of the potatoes very well. Prick each potato 3 or 4 times and bake in a preheated hot oven 2001C/4001F/regulo 6 for 1 hour approx. depending on the size. When cooked, serve immediately while skins are still crisp and make sure to eat the skins with lots of butter and sea salt, Simply Delicious!
Suggested Stuffing for Baked Potatoes
Garlic mayonnaise with tuna fish
Fromage Blanc with smoked salmon and chives
Garlic butter with crispy rasher.
Crème Fraiche with Harrissa, or Tapenade or Smoked Mackerel and Dill
Fair Trade Fortnight
Is running until 19th March – the aim is to increase consumer awareness of the FAIRTRADE MARK and to encourage people up and down the country to purchase Fairtrade products. With an ever growing range of Fairtrade Mark products available , its easier than ever to include Fairtrade in your everyday shopping and thus help to protect the livelihoods of farmers and workers in developing countries. Have a look at the website www.fairtrade.ie for ideas on fair-trade events and what you can do. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
New Farmers Markets in Co Cork
Ballincollig Farmers Market opened on 8th March
And will run every Wednesday from 10am to late afternoon in Time Square by the Reel Cinema.
Bandon Farmers Market will open on 1st April
It will be held in the Car Park of Mace Supermarket in Bandon on the first Saturday in every month from 10-2. Potential stall holders should contact Veronica Neville on 087-2324327, email@example.com
Food for Life by Kevin Thornton of Thornton’s Restaurant is available from Thornton’s, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2,Tel 01-4787008 and Mitchell & Son, Kildare St., Berry Bros and Rudd, Harry St. and Green’s Bookshop on Clare St., all in Dublin.
Priced at €100 the book is for charity and a cause very close to his heart.