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EC Forces Through “Bad Decision” on GM Industrial Potato – Ignores health risks

Immediate release (2 Mar 2010)

Calls to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341 065

The announcement by the EC [1] that they have approved BASF’s GM starch altered potato for cultivation to produce starch to be used by industry has been described as a “bad and ill informed decision” by GM Freeze.

The pulp remaining after the starch has been extracted will be allowed fed to animals following a parallel decision also announced by the Commission today. Products produced from livestock fed the GM potato pulp will not be required to be labelled under EU traceability and labelling laws. There is already widespread in support for labelling [2] and this is another example of how EC is ignoring public opinion and denying choice.

Several non-GM starch altered potatoes are already on the market demonstrating that there is no need for GM varieties. The most recent being the Emsland Group’s announcement in September 2009 that it planned to start processing high amylopectin potatoes (starch altered) developed using classical breeding in their production plants in Kyritz and Cloppenburg last autumn. [3]

The EC decision in controversial because it is based on advice from The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) regarding the use of antibiotic resistant marker (ARM) genes [4] which has been challenged by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). GM Freeze is also concerned about the overall testing of feed safety, for instance the lack of attention to the presence of novel chemicals arising from genetic engineering events.

The EU policy is to avoid using ARMs for antibiotics which are used in human or veterinary medicine.

The ARM 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 EMA has challenged EFSA’s opinion based on the potential importance of this group of antibiotics in medicine [5]. The concern is that the ARMs genes could horizontally transfer to pathogenic bacterium in the guts of humans or animals this worsening the problem of antibiotic resistance in treating a range of infections.

Previously the application to growth the starch altered GM potatoes failed to reach the required qualified majority vote in the EU’s Council of Ministers because of the concerns about the ARMs. This led the EC to seek further advice from EFSA and the EMA. EMA told the EC [5]:

Not withstanding the EFSA opinion, aminoglycosides is a class of antibiotics that has become increasingly important in the prevention and treatment of serious invasive bacterial infections in humans. This is because gram-negative bacteria (and tuberculosis bacteria) are becoming resistant to other classes of antibiotics.

And

That situation may change as new chemical entities similar to kanamycin and neomycin could be developed. New chemical entities similar to kanamycin and neomycin could have other properties in relation to, for example, absorption from the gastrointestinal tract and with regard to side-effects. They thus have the potential to become extremely important to treat otherwise multi-resistant gram-negative infections and Tuberculosis.

Potatoes for the production of industrial starch are grown on a quota system in the EU, and the UK does not have any quota at the present time.

Controversially, the EC also forced through three consents to import GM maize for use in food and feed, which had also failed to reach a qualified majority in the Council of Ministers. These GM maize varieties involved stacked genes (combining genes from two different GMOs in the same plant) and there is disagreement on how the safety of these should be assessed [6].

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

The approval of the GM potatoes is a bad and ill informed decision by the EC and shows that their interpretation of the precautionary principle is very far from what it should be. It flies in the face of sound advice on the risks of the particular anti-biotic resistant marker genes used by BASF. This gene could have been removed long ago but BASF decided not to do so. As a consequence, the gene will be entering the animal feed chain in Europe. If the gene transfers to harmful bacteria take place we will know who to blame.

Gaps in the GM labelling regulations mean that EU consumers will not be able to tell if their meat or milk comes from stock fed on GM potato pulp when they make their purchases.

Notes
[1] See http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/10/222&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en.

[2] A Gkf/NOP poll in 1986 for GM Freeze and Friends of the Earth found 86% of people in the Uk wanted animal products from GM feed animals labelled.

[3] See Emsland Group Press Release http://web47.freisign.your-host.de/content.php?item=635&action=details&id=28&page=1&&NXTSTPID2=cc541efcd66f3a856496f512ba0a05e3&NXTSTPID2=1ec42f8e250fa4d87af028dcaac64aea.

[4] ARMs are not required in the commercial crop and are used by genetic engineers to make it easy to identify which plants have been successfully genetically modified during the very early development stages of the GM potatoes.

[5] See www.emea.europa.eu/pdfs/human/opiniongen/5693707en.pdf.

[6] Bundesminiterium Fur Gesundheit Familie und Jugend, 2007. Risk Assessment of “stacked events”. See www.bmgfj.gv.at/cms/site/attachments/7/7/0/CH0810/CMS1180523433481/cms1200659635294_internetversion_2_07stacked_events.pdf .