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Immediate release (07 Jun 2010)

GM Potatoes – Expensive and Unproven: £1.7 million and 10 Years for One Trial

GM potatoes to be planted in test site in Norfolk are not a good use of public money according to GM Freeze.

The group has revealed that research into genetically modifying potatoes to resist the fungal disease late blight has cost tax payers over £1.7 million since 2001 [1] and that more public money will be needed to develop varieties that perform well in the UK if the GM resistance is successful.  

The escalating cost of GM blight resistance research is in marked contrast the progress being made using conventional breeding techniques by the Sárvári Research Trust in North Wales, which already has several commercial varieties available exhibiting robust blight resistance plus many other characteristics meaning they fit well into sustainable farming systems. [2]

GM Freeze is concerned about many aspects of GM technology being used in potatoes. In addition to the costs of research, there are unresolved issues of food safety, including the presence of an antibiotic resistant marker gene in the varieties under test [3], which means even JIC admit they are now testing a potato they cannot commercialise. 

Further complications include the need to prevent GM contamination either by pollen or by accidental mixing of GM and non-GM varieties by commercial growers.

Pete Riley of GM freeze commented:

“The use of GM technology to tackle blight resistance in potatoes is expensive, unproven and, if approved for commercial cultivation, very disruptive for the potato industry because of the measures needed to prevent contamination to protect consumer choice.

“Conventional breeding is miles ahead of GM in producing very good resistance in varieties that are already on the market. This has been achieved without the benefit of the massive public research funding that has been poured into GM blight resistance research, which after a decade has resulted in one test site and no sign of a variety of value to growers or gardeners. This is the same story for most ‘miracle’ GM crops.”

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065.

Notes

[1] Summary of funding for GM blight resistant potatoes from the BBSRC from 2001 to the present from BBSRC Oasis database

Grant number

  Description

Duration

  Amount

BBC0075221

  Isolation of new potato genes for resistance to Phytophthora infestans from wild diploid Solanum species

05-08

  £353,381

BBE52718X1

  Late blight resistance and elevated flavonoid composition for potato improvement

07-08

  £112,179

BBG02197X1

  A pipeline of resistance genes to Phytophthora infestans from wild Solanum species and their accelerated isolation using Illumina sequencing methods

09-12

  £750,648

P13270

  Genetic and molecular characterisation of resistance genes to Phytophthora infestans (late blight) in diploid potato species

01-04

  £241,392

BBE0248821

  Understanding host plant susceptibility and resistance by indexing and deploying obligate pathogen effectors

07-10

  £277,434

Total

   

 £1,735,031

[2] The Sárvári Research Trust have been breeding highly blight resistant varieties for many years and have a range of six red, purple and white varieties on the market or more  awaiting National Listing by the government (see http://www.sarvari-trust.org/).

[3] The anti-biotic resistant marker gene in these potatoes confers resistance to kanamycin. Although this is from a group of antibiotic resistant genes approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for use as markers in GM crops, the European Medicines Agency has contradicted EFSA’s opinion based on the potential importance of this group of antibiotics in medicine (see www.emea.europa.eu/pdfs/human/opiniongen/5693707en.pdf). There is concern that the gene could horizontally transfer to pathogenic bacterium making the problem of antibiotic resistances in human and veterinary medicine worse.