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European Union Approves Genetically Engineered Potato for Animal Feed and Industrial Uses

(Beyond Pesticides, March 5, 2010) The European Commission (EC) has approved the cultivation of the genetically modified (GM) Amflora Potato for feed and industrial (paper and glue) uses. Three varieties of GM corn developed by Monsanto were also approved by the EC for sale but not cultivation within the European Union (EU). Opponents fear that this decision could open the door to approval for other genetically modified (GM) crops such as Glyphosate resistant (Roundup Ready) varieties. Critics say that while not approved for human consumption, Amflora and other GM crops could still end up in the food supply, and the technology used to create these crops could lead to increased antibiotic resistance.

The opposition to GM crops or “Frankenstein Foods,” as many call it, is very strong in several EU countries. Martin Haeusling, an EU Parliament and Green Party member, says that 70% of the EU population opposes genetically modified foods. This is the first time the EU has approved a GM crop since 1998 when Monsanto’s MON 810, a variety of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn was approved for human consumption. When Austria and Hungary banned the crop, the EC unsuccessfully tried to force the two nations to allow Bt corn production. France has also banned MON810.

Following suit, Germany banned MON810 in April last year. Germany’s Agriculture and Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner said that genetic engineering “has so far not yielded tangible benefits for the people.” In the same month, scientists in the U.S. reported that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields. Monstanto, however, has since filed a lawsuit against the German government claiming that the ban is “arbitrary.”

Amflora is engineered to have 98% starch content, and was developed by BASF, the world’s largest chemical company. The approval of Amflora, “puts profits before people,” says to Heike Moldenhauer, a spokeswoman for the Friends of the Earth Europe. Hubert Weigner, President of Friends of the Earth Germany says it is “a political genuflection towards BASF.”

Italy and Austria have already announced plans to ban the GM potato. Germany will allow the potato to be cultivated only for industrial purposes, not animal feed. Despite being opposed to MON810, Minister Aigner applauded the decision and said, “I plan to enter into a dialogue with Germany’s states and, of course, the federal parliament on how we can implement this possibility in Germany in a responsible way.” Amflora potatoes will be planted in Germany and the Czech Republic this year, possibly followed by plantings in the Netherlands and Sweden where the variety was developed.

In a press release, the EC claims that adequate preventive measures will be taken, however, many are concerned that Amflora will still find its way into the food supply. In the U.S., the moratorium on cultivation of GE alfalfa will soon go before the Supreme Court. Organic farming and environmental groups are fighting to stop cultivation, because the genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa is contaminating nearby organic alfalfa. Unlike alfalfa, which can cross pollinate with plants several miles away, potatoes are propagated vegetatively, and are harvested before the plants can go to seed, making cross pollination less of an issue. Spuds may remain after a field is harvested, and there is the possibility that a field may still contain GM spuds when it is planted in later years with conventional potatoes, when there would be no way to separate the lingering GM potatoes from the rest of the harvest.

The widespread production of GM crops is also a threat to human health, because antibiotic resistance genes are incorporated into their DNA. It is possible that bacteria could take up these resistant genes from crops and incorporate them into their genome making them into more virulent pathogens. The threat of spreading antibiotic resistance helped derail approval of a GM eggplant in India. The group Doctors for Food and Biosafety said in a statement that the practice of using antibiotic resistance genes in genetic engineering could have a disastrous effect in developing nations struggling to control communicable disease. After protests broke out across the nation, with some protestors dressed as purple or white eggplants, the Indian government decided to impose a moratorium on the GM crop.

Beyond Pesticides opposes the use of genetically modified organisms because of the dangers they pose to human health and the environment. The widescale adoption of genetically modified crops has lead to a marked increase in the use of pesticides, and emerging research has linked genetically modified crops to organ damage. All the while, these crops have failed in their promise to deliver a marked increase in yield.

Sources: Spiegel Online, New York Times


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