BASF Drops Key GM Projects
Immediate release (30 Jan 2013)
Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341 065
BASF announced yesterday it is abandoning efforts to gain EU authorisation for three GM potatoes after over a decade of investment and research. The company is also dropping research into GM “nutritionally enhanced corn” in the US, which will trigger the closure of six field sites and the loss of 40 jobs.  BASF’s statement says of its GM potato, “[I]nvestment cannot be justified due to uncertainty in the regulatory environment and threats of field destructions,” but this fails to acknowledge that in fact there is no market for the products and activist interference in GM trials is in fact very rare.
BASF’s GM starch altered Amflora potato is one of only two crops with EU cultivation authorisation. Its approval and commercialisation has a chequered history. Post-industrial pulp of the crop is used as animal feed, and approval was delayed because EU Member States raised questions about its safety and objected to the use of antibiotic resistant marker genes in its development – a practice EU authorities say should be phased out to help prevent escalation of the antibiotic resistance in human and veterinary medicine.  The crop’s eventual 2010 authorisation caused considerable controversy,  then BASF’s reputation was tarnished further when Amflora seed potato was accidentally mixed with another unauthorised experimental GM potato, and the first crop had to be destroyed.  The total area of Amflora grown under license in the EU in 2011 fell to a mere 18 hectares (equivalent to a typical arable field in England) in Sweden and Germany. 
There is still no clear need for the crop, and there is evidence that existing markets have rejected it. Germany’s Emsland Group, which is developing its own non-GM starch altered potato, said in April 2012 it “will not cultivate nor process genetically modified potatoes or derived products during the campaign in 2012/13”.  In the UK the Sarvari Research Trust has a number of conventionally bred varieties with very high resistance to potato blight, rendering GM a costly, risky and lengthy diversion.
The GM industry has long promised GM nutritionally enhanced crops but has so far failed comprehensively to deliver, so the end of the US GM corn project is not surprising.
Crop destruction is often blamed for the lack of investment in GM crop development, but “the threat of field destruction” has never hindered GM in the US, where the industry is happy to point out GM crops are widely trialled and grown commercially. While this argument fits with wider political discussion about the need to protect GM investment from critics (GM Freeze revealed collusion between UK Government officials and BASF in 2007 over GM trial consent conditions ), it does not stand up to scrutiny.
Pete Riley of GM freeze commented:
BASF’s decision to dump GM potatoes and ‘enhanced’ corn is very good news. GM is on the ropes. The companies that stand to lose the millions poured into ill-judged research projects will of course try to blame others, but the fact of the matter is there is no market for these products.
Conventional plant breeders can now get on with developing conventional potatoes for industrial uses or with blight resistance, for which there is a clear market, as they have for many years. BASF seems to want to blame everyone else for its poor investment choices, but the truth is there is no demand for GM products. BASF shareholders might have some questions for their the Directors as to why the company has been heading up a blind alley for so long when the signs of consumer and corporate rejection of GM has been all too apparent for the last 15 years.
Notes BASF, 29 January 2013. “BASF to expand its plant biotechnology research into fungal resistance in corn”  GM Freeze, 7 June 2010. “GM Potatoes – Expensive and Unproven: £1.7 million and 10 Years for One Trial”. The antibiotic resistant marker gene 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.
Greenpeace, 11 June 2009. “Disagreement in EFSA opinion puts future of BASF GM potato in doubt” GM Freeze, 2 March 2012. “EC Forces Through “Bad Decision” on GM Industrial Potato – Ignores health risks”  Greenpeace, 4 September 2010. “Illegal GM potato discovered growing in Sweden”  Dow Jones Newswires via Fox Business, 31 January 2011. “BASF Cultivation Of Amflora Potatoes To Be Lower In 2011”
Friends of the Earth Europe. 7 February 2012. “Organic farming dwarves GM crops in Europe as public rejection hits biotech firms” Emsland Group, 25 September 2009. “Processing of amylopectin potatoes in Kyritz and Cloppenburg”
Emsland Group, 26 April 2012. “Statement on genetically modified potatoes” GM Freeze, 31 October 2007. “Internal Documents Reveal Government Collusion with Industry on GM Potato Trial”