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9-Misc: German GM project stalled

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  German GM project stalled
SOURCE: The Scientist, by Ned Stafford
DATE:   13 Jan 2005

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German GM project stalled
In the wake of a law seen as a major blow for science, a major project's
funding dries up

A German research project aimed at producing genetically modified (GM)
potatoes with higher levels of an important carotenoid will likely be
cancelled before completion because of what the study's leader calls the
German government's negative attitude toward GM crop research.

Helmar Schubert, from the University of Karlsruhe's Institute of Food
Process Engineering, told The Scientist the German research ministry has
refused to provide additional funding needed to complete the 5-year project.

The group has succeeded in producing GM potatoes with 250 times more
zeaxanthin than found in conventional potatoes, said Schubert. Past
studies have indicated that higher dietary levels of zeaxanthin reduce
the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a frequent cause of vision
loss in the elderly.

Schubert said his group needs just one more year to finish the project,
but "at the moment, we have no money to finish the project."

The project, which started in 1999, received a grant of around ?10
million (USD $13.2 million) under the government of the previous
chancellor, Helmut Kohl. Schubert said Kohl supported GM research more
than the current government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose SPD
party relies on the support of the Greens party to maintain a
parliamentary majority.

Schroeder's government last year supported parliamentary passage of a new
highly restrictive GM crop law that most in the bioscience community see
as a major blow to German science. Mark Stitt, managing director at the
Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, reflected the
prevailing disillusionment during an interview with The Scientist in late
November. "Germany has potentially one of the most flourishing bioscience
industries in the world," he said. "But now, research will be leaving
Germany. Firms will be leaving Germany."

Schubert said simply: "You can imagine that the current government has
some problems with our project."

In the spring of 2003, seed potatoes developed by a University of
Frankfurt team were planted in a test field by a research team headed by
Gerhard Wenzel from the Technical University of Munich. But as has often
been the case in Germany, the test field was destroyed by anti-GM
activists, throwing the project a year behind schedule. Last spring, the
team installed ?23,000 (USD $30,400) worth of security cameras before
planting a fresh test field, which survived until harvest, yielding 2
metric tons of GM potatoes this past autumn.

The first batch of potatoes was to have been analyzed by the Federal
Research Center of Nutrition and Food in Karlsruhe, Schubert said. But
funding for the center and most other project participants ended in
October, and the 2 tons of GM potatoes are now in storage.

"The potatoes, in our opinion, are very valuable," Schubert said. About
half a million euros is needed to complete the project, which would
include a second test field planted next spring.

Barbara Dufner, a Research Ministry spokeswoman, told The Scientist that
additional funding to continue the program is not expected, adding that
funding for Wenzel's University of Munich team ends on May 28. Schubert
said he will seek funding from other sources. But if he fails, he said it
"does not make sense" for Wenzel to plant another test field this spring.

Christoph Then, a Greenpeace Germany GM expert, told The Scientist that
in addition to his organization's opposition to the concept of GM crops,
it also is generally opposed to enriching foods with vitamins, minerals,
or other nutrients, some of which can be harmful if ingested in excess.
"It makes no sense to enrich certain types of food with GMOs," he said.

Links for this article
Helmar Schubert hubert/

"Study demonstrates essential role of zeaxanthin in eye health," MD
Support: published by permission from RFB Communications Group, Inc.,
June 9, 2003.

N. Stafford, "GM law 'a blow for science,'" The Scientist, December 1, 2004.

Gerhard Wenzel

N. Stafford, "Uproar over German GM corn," The Scientist, May 17, 2004.


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