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GM Freeze Calls for Honesty from BASF and Defra on GM Spud Trials

Immediate release (24 Apr 2007)

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341065

GM Freeze has called for Defra and BASF to be open with local people in East Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire about both the facts of and the purpose for the GM potato trials planned in each place. Defra must delay any decision on trials until the safety of the potatoes has been established.

At a recent meeting BASF officials confirmed to GM Freeze that the genes used in the GM potatoes came from a Mexican wild relative of the potato and not, as previously stated by BASF, a “wild potato”. [1]

While the wild relative, Solanum bulbocastanum, is found in Mexico and cannot naturally cross breed with potatoes, potatoes are members of the nightshade family – a group of plants known to naturally produce toxins. [2] There are concerns that such toxins from the wild relative may be carried into the GM potatoes inadvertently and thus enter the food chain.

There is also confusion over the purposes of the trials. The BASF applications states:

The purpose of the release of the genetically modified plant, including its initial use and any intention to use it as or in a product in the future. The trials will be conducted for development purposes. In the first three to four years the purpose of the small-scale experimental trial will be the screening of events for improved resistance to Phytophthora infestans (proof of concept under UK field conditions with UK specific Phytophthora infestans strains). In addition during the course of the trial the following will be observed and recorded: agronomic performance (e.g. plant vigour and yield), and selected plant characteristics (e.g. emergence, flowering, maturation), as well as stability of the trait.

The trial will also be used to gather environmental data required to obtain commercial approval for the GM potatoes.

However in February a Defra press release ignored many of the commercial aspects of the trial:

The trials will test the effectiveness of the potato’s resistance against UK strains of the disease. [3]

In contrast, in a February press release BASF were confident that the GM potatoes were blight resistant: “The plants BASF will be field testing have already shown (in the greenhouse and the field) that they can complement the existing resistance and provide the plant with much stronger protection from late blight.” [4]

BASF confirmed to GM Freeze that they intend to test 80 lines of GM potatoes in East Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

BASF confirmed to me that their previous greenhouse and outdoor trials in Europe have already convinced them that GM blight resistance is effective. It is now clear that the Cambridgeshire and East Yorkshire trials are about the commercial development of GM potatoes and not merely to test if the resistance is effective. The use of genes from a wild relative of potatoes, and not wild potatoes, raise additional safety concerns that need to be cleared up before outdoor trials commence. We need to be sure that none of the 80 GM lines are producing unexpected toxins. The company and Defra are guilty of putting out misleading information. It’s time BASF came clean and made a clear, honest statement about the true purpose behind these risky trials and present clear evidence that the GM spuds are safe. Defra should not approve the trial until the safety has been established.


Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341065

1. “The potatoes have been modified, using a natural trait found in a wild potato, to resist the devastating fungal disease late blight.” BASF press release, 27 February 2007. CW669-07

2. British Poisonous Plants. MAFF Bulletin 161 1968 – potatoes produce toxins known as alkaloidal glycosides or solanines in the green parts of the plant. Symptoms include chronic anaemia, gastritis and can be fatal in humans if not treated.

3. See and also

4. BASF press release, 27 February 2007. CW669-07