Growing genetically modified (GM) potatoes

The European Union is expected to ignore public opinion by approving the outdoor cultivation of a genetically modified potato. Europe's farm ministers meet in Brussels today (16 July 07) to consider a European Commission proposal to allow a new antibiotic-resistant potato to be grown.

The proposed act will probably be adopted via the obscure process of "comitology" - passing the buck to unelected officials.

Greenpeace is concerned that the procedure will allow the Commission to allow the planting of this potato (BASF EH92-527-1) following earlier clearance from the European Food Safety Authority.

Marco Contiero, the GM policy adviser for Greenpeace, said that the mechanism allows the Commission to avoid taking responsibility. "Many member states use this authorisation procedure to duck political responsibility to their citizens who are opposed to GM crops. It is convenient to all governments but especially those like the UK, where the authorities support GM but the British people do not".

BASF's genetically modified potato, which includes genes for resistance to antibiotics, would be used in industrial starch production, not for food.

Antibiotic resistance genes are often put into GM plants as tags or markers, so that genetic engineers can tell when they have successfully inserted new traits into a plant. This has happened here. Although it is possible to remove these genes before the plant is released (or to use different marker genes altogether), these precautions are rarely taken. As in this case, it seems.

If this potato is cultivated in large numbers, there is a possibility that the antibiotic resistance will spread to soil-borne or other bacteria.

Hospitals already have a problem with antibiotic-resistant bugs. This has been caused by the over-use of antibiotics in the past. Could the widespread growing of this potato compromise the effectiveness of antibiotics in our Health Service?

..........ND comment: I've written the above after reading an article by Bruno Waterfield in the Daily Telegraph, 16 July 07. Comments welcome from anyone who has knowledge of this kind of work. .

compiled by Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

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