DUBLIN, Ireland—The battle over the cultivation of genetically modified crops in Ireland resumes next week with a preliminary High Court hearing in Dublin on Monday.

Genetic Concern, a coalition of campaign organizations and interest groups, will seek a date for a judicial review of the Irish EPA's decision to license Monsanto Co., of St. Louis, to undertake field trials of genetically modified sugar beets. The coalition failed to obtain a date for the hearing at a previous sitting in December, due to a large backlog of cases in the courts. The case will not be tried until about late February, said Genetic Concern spokesman Quentin Gargan.

The group is challenging the grounds on which the EPA granted Monsanto a license to conduct field trials of its Round-Up Ready sugar beet, which is resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. It alleged the EPA failed to stipulate the inclusion of an environmental impact study in its authorization and that it did not require Monsanto to fulfill certain other measures. It brought an injunction against Monsanto's field trial last May, but failed to prevent it going ahead.

The group's overall aim is to secure a moratorium on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Ireland and, "as a minimum," the segregation and labeling of foods derived from GMOs.

The organization maintains the technology is still not sufficiently understood to make its use in agriculture safe.

Public May Be Asked To Decide Issue

"We have a particular problem with the fact that pleiotropic effects cannot be fully researched," said Gargan. He also questioned the economic advantages to the public of GMO-derived foodstuffs. The public should be the final arbiter of safety, he said.

Gargan cited Norway as one country to have incorporated the views of the public into its national policy, following a consensus conference it held in October 1996.

If the Irish public voted in favor of the use of GMOs in agriculture, Genetic Concern would probably discontinue its current activities, Gargan said.

Phil Dix, a plant geneticist based at the National University of Ireland, in Maynooth, has opposed Genetic Concern in public debates. He told BioWorld International the group is overly cautious in its approach to the technology.

The debate over GMOs is occurring rather belatedly in Ireland, Dix said. In the U.S. it is largely considered "dead and buried," he added. "My view is that will eventually happen here."

The outcome of the present case will determine whether Monsanto will be able to continue trials of its Round-Up Ready sugar beet at a state-owned agricultural research station at Oak Park in County Carlow. Its license authorizes it to carry out field trials for another three years.

Sidney Reid, country manager for Monsanto, confirmed that, pending the outcome of the case, the company expects to begin a second field trial in April.

Monsanto is reviewing its security arrangements, he said, following destruction of the experimental plot last October by a group called the Gaelic Earth Liberation Front. (See BioWorld International, Oct. 1., 1997, p. 1.)