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Irish Showed the Way to Mash GM Spuds but Defra throws Caution to the Wind

Immediate release (1 Dec 2006)

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065

GM Freeze have described the approaches to licensing test sites for GM potatoes on either side of the Irish Sea as being “light years apart” following today’s approval of BASF’s GM trials in 2007 and beyond by Defra.

The giant German chemical company BASF applied to Defra in the summer to carry out tests of GM blight resistant potatoes from 2007 in Derbyshire and Cambridgeshire. They were granted approval for the same trials in Ireland last summer but they refused to proceed after the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) imposed 10 conditions in the license for the trial. The conditions on the license issued today by Defra are no where near as tough as those required in Ireland.

The major differences between the Irish EPA (1) and Defra (2) include:

The EPA required all berries (fruit containing seeds) to be collected in sealed bags and removed from Ireland. Defra require tops including berries to be chopped or sprayed with weedkiller.

The EPA required potatoes exposed during cultivation to be removed or re-buried. Defra make no recommendations on this point.

The EPA required a number of harvest operations to ensure the maximum number of GM tubers were removed. Defra require one harvesting operation.

The EPA wanted a 40 metres separation distance between GM and non-GM neighbours. Defra have allowed 20 metres.

The EPA required the site to be inspected for four years after the trail and volunteers potatoes or seedlings removed. Defra require only 2 years inspection.

The EPA insisted on an independent body (agreed by them) carrying out post release monitoring of the site. Defra are happy for BASF to monitor their own trial and report on it.

GM Freeze objected to the application because of the risk of GM materials spreading to neighbouring crops, lack of food safety data and because the trail was unnecessary given that many current potato varieties are already resistant to blight through conventional breeding making the GM varieties unnecessary. GM Freeze also pointed out that potato blight has many different strains and evolves rapidly so that GM resistance traits may not be effective for very long. Other objectors included the British Potato Council and McCains who were concerned about contamination and the impact on the UK potato industry.

Pete Riley of GM Freeze commented:

The approach taken by Defra and the Irish EPA are light years apart. Given the opposition of the UK potato growers’ trade body, you would have expected Defra to follow Ireland’s lead and take a very precautionary approach with much tighter controls to try and prevent any GM materials escaping from the field or in the years following the trial. The huge irony of the BASF trials is that conventional plant breeders have already succeeded in developing resistance in 20% of potato varieties. New varieties bred from Hungarian stock are already proving to be very robust against blight in the UK.

BASF’s experiment is pointless because we already well on the way to tackling the problem and there will be no market for GM spuds in the foreseeable future”.


Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065.

1. The full conditions required under the Irish approval which BASF did not take up are at,9237,en.pdf

2. Defra’s condition can be found here