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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Defra Approve GM Potatoes Application

Immediate release (9 May 2008)

Calls to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341 065

GM Freeze described today’s announcement by Defra to approve an application to trial GM potatoes near Tadcaster in North Yorkshire a by the University of Leeds as “very unwise and unnecessary”.

The decision comes two months after a public consultation ended and despite a hint from Defra’s statutory advisory committee ACRE that the trial might have taken place in a greenhouse:

ACRE considered that the inclusion of a further step e.g. a glasshouse study in the progression from laboratory experiments to field release might have been more appropriate in this case. [1]

Furthermore ACRE also raised other concerns about the release of the GM potatoes which are genetically modified to repel the soil pest Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN). ACRE did not consider that the applicant had provided sufficient information on the specificity of the synthetic peptide. The applicant discussed the impact of the peptide on PCN but did not address the potential for it to affect other soil organisms. The Committee did not consider it likely that the peptide would have adverse consequences for soil biodiversity more generally, given that the peptide is exuded in very small amounts by the GM plants, it is not stable and does not exert a toxic effect on PCN.

However, since there were no data provided to demonstrate its specificity to PCN and that it is not toxic to other organisms in the soil, ACRE felt there was too much uncertainty to draw this conclusion and asked for further information.

GM Freeze objected to the release for a number of reasons [2]:

  • Lack of demand for GM potatoes.
  • Lack of need because PCN can be dealt with using good agricultural practice.
  • Risk of GM genes escaping in pollen.
  • Persistence of GM volunteers.
  • Risk of tubers being transferred off field.
  • Lack of evidence is provided that unexpected side effects of the GM insertion have taken place.
  • Lack of data about the synthetic genes used.
  • The presence of the neomycin resistant gene raises concerns about the long-term risk of increasing antibiotic resistance.
  • Lack of data about the allergenicity of the new and altered GM proteins.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

This approval is unwise and unnecessary. Potato cyst nematode can be tackled using good agricultural practice by have many years between potato crops in the rotation. GM potatoes will encourage short rotation which will not lead to sustainable systems. We are very concerned that Defra persists in approving applications which contain antibiotic resistant marker genes involving antibiotic which are still in clinical use. These genes are not needed and should be removed. The GM proteins in these potatoes have not been tested sufficiently for allergenicity first. All in all it’s a bad decision by Defra.

ENDs

Calls to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341 065.

Please note GM Freeze’s new land line number 0845 217 8992.

Notes
[1] See www.defra.gov.uk/environment/acre/meetings/08/min080221.htm.

[2] See GM Freeze objection here.