DUBLIN, Ireland — An environmentalist's challenge to the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision giving St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. permission to carry out field trials of genetically modified sugar beets was comprehensively defeated in the High Court in Dublin.

Clare Watson, a member of Genetic Concern, which opposes the introduction of genetically modified foods to Ireland, had sought to overturn the EPA decision on the grounds that Irish legislation on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) imposes a stricter safety test than that defined by the corresponding European Union (EU) directive, 90/220. (See BioWorld International, July 15, 1998, p. 1.)

However, Justice Philip O'Sullivan agreed with the argument put forward by Monsanto and the EPA that the Irish legislation, which is intended to give effect to the EU directive, imposes the same standard, "not the 'effectively zero' risk standard contended for by Ms. Watson."

O'Sullivan also quoted earlier cases, which hold that EU law takes precedence over domestic legislation, and that where they are in conflict, EU law prevails. He said that when applying national law, Irish courts must interpret it "as far as possible in light of the wording and purpose of the directive where that law has been introduced, in order to implement the directive."

O'Sullivan also declined Watson's arguments on nine subsidiary points, which primarily addressed procedural issues associated with the EPA's processing of Monsanto's application for consent to carry out the trials.

In a statement issued directly after the hearing, Watson said, "We always knew that because the focus of the case was so restricted, the decision at the end of the day would center on legal rather than scientific arguments."

London-based molecular geneticist Ricarda Steinbrecker, who acted as an expert witness for Watson, said the verdict "should not be taken as a green light for genetic engineering. Current regulations do not require independent, long-term environmental or health studies, both of which should be essential prerequisites to releasing these organisms into the environment and our food chain."

The case was adjourned until next Tuesday. Watson's legal team will decide in the interim if it has grounds for an appeal. Costs of the case have not been ruled on yet, but Watson could face a legal bill of more than IEP100,000 (US$152,740). *

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