State body Teagasc has said it wants to conduct outdoor trials of genetically modified potatoes, which have been made to be blight-resistant.

The agency has been growing the modified crops indoors for several years but has sought permission from the Environmental Protection Agency to move its trials outdoors.

Teagasc scientists said the trial would allow them to see if GM potatoes would need less spraying with fungicides than conventional potatoes.

However several groups are opposed to the trials, among them GM-Free Ireland, organic growers group IOFGA and the Irish Doctor’s Environmental Association.

Óisín Coghlan of Friends of the Earth also questioned the reason for the trials and said the future of Ireland’s food industry lies in a GM-free, clean, green image.

GM foods has been a controversial topic in Ireland – and worldwide – for two decades.

In the 1990's, field trials of sugar beet were dug up by protesters in Co Wexford.

In an attempt to allay fears, Dr Ewen Mullins of Teagasc has said their GM potatoes would not be grown near any other crops and the potatoes would not be used in the human or animal food chains.

He also said the biotechnology industry was not funding any of the trial and it would not compromise Ireland’s image.

The EPA has until May to decide if they will allow the trials.