GENET archive


APPROVAL: EU ministers pave way for biotech potato crops

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Reuters

AUTHOR: Jeremy Smith


DATE:   16.07.2007

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU farm ministers clashed on Monday on whether to approve a genetically modified (GMO) potato for growing, passing the final say to the bloc’s executive and thus paving the way for the first new ”live” GMO crop for years.

Developed by German chemicals group BASF, the potato yields high amounts of starch. While it would be grown in Europe’s fields, it is not intended for direct human consumption and its starch would be used in industries like paper-making.

Since the ministers failed to achieve the required majority under the EU’s weighted voting system, the decision now passes to the European Commission, which should now issue a rubberstamp authorization according to EU legal procedures.

”We make 120 percent sure that this product is absolutely safe,” Commission spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich told a daily news briefing earlier on Monday. ”It’s not a matter of whether it’s appropriate for the Commission or not -- it is following rules ... agreed by member states and institutions of the EU.”

”If (there is) not a QMV (qualified majority vote), then the Council (of ministers) will send the decision back to the Commission and the Commission and then have to reaffirm the original decision. It will authorize the product,” she said.

However, it is unclear exactly how long that might take -- possibly, officials say, due to reluctance inside the Commission’s environment department to push the dossier forward.

But when the approval does come, it will be the EU’s first approval of a GMO crop for cultivation since its de facto six-year moratorium on new biotech authorizations. That ban ended, again by a default Commission rubberstamp, in 2004.

Even so, no more GMO crops have gained EU approval for cultivation since that time.



The European Union has long been split on GMO policy and its 27 member states consistently clash over whether to approve new varieties for import -- but without ever reaching a conclusion.

Even the idea of how biotech crops should be separated from traditional and organic varieties has proved controversial.

Analysis of recent voting patterns indicates that the consistent ”blocking minority” of EU governments may be eroding as some smaller countries are opting to abstain than reject an application outright -- so weakening the ”anti-GMO” camp.

”There are some member states, regardless of scientific evidence, that don’t think any new GMO approval is necessary,” one EU diplomat said. It was not immediately clear which way the EU’s 27 governments had voted at the farm ministers’ meeting.

Some countries, like Britain, Finland and the Netherlands, almost always vote in favor of approving new GMOs. They are offset by a group of GMO-skeptic states like Austria, Greece and Luxembourg, that vote against and force a voting stalemate.

In Europe, consumers are well known for their skepticism, if not hostility, to GMO crops, often dubbed as ”Frankenstein foods”. But the international biotech industry says its products are perfectly safe and no different to conventional foods.

                                  PART 2

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AUTHOR: The Associated Press, by Constant Brand


DATE:   16.07.2007

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BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - European Union farm ministers failed to agree Monday on whether to block the cultivation of a genetically engineered potato that environmental groups claim poses a risk to human and animal health.

The inability of the 27 EU nations to agree on how to handle the biotech potato developed by Germany’s BASF AG means the decision will be left to the EU’s executive commission, which indicated it will grant approval.

Eleven EU nations including Italy, Austria, Greece and Poland tried to block the ”Amflora” strain which is intended for industrial purposes rather than human consumption.

They did not muster enough votes to reject the application outright as Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden led a group of supporters.

Under EU rules, the European Commission has the final authority to decide on clearing new biotech crops if member states reach a stalemate. The product has already passed a safety check by the EU’s European Food Safety Authority.

Commission spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich said the biotech potato could not pose a health risk as it was not meant for human or animal consumption. BASF says the starch used from the potato will be used instead for paper and glue manufacture.

”This product is a potato which is exclusively used for starch production in the industrial world, it is not going out to the consumer,” she said.

Environmental groups warned however that the genetically modified organism contains a gene that makes it resistant to antibiotics which could spread to other conventional crops planted nearby.

”The big GMO companies claim that using genetically modified potatoes in industrial processes is an environmentally-friendly option, but this is absurd considering the associated health and environmental risks,” said Helen Holder from Friends of the Earth Europe.

Monday’s deadlock was the latest showdown between EU nations for and against expanding the use of genetically modified crops in Europe.

The EU ended a six-year moratorium on accepting applications for new biotech products in May 2004, introducing strict approval procedures and labeling regulations, but several EU nations remain reluctant to authorize biotech crops because of public health and environmental concerns.

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: Financial Times, UK

AUTHOR: Sarah Laitner


DATE:   17.07.2007

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Brussels on Monday paved the way for approval of the first commercial cultivation of a genetically modified crop in the European Union since 2001.

BASF, the German chemicals group, wants permission to sell Amflora, a GM potato, for industrial use in items such as packaging and paper coatings. It will not be used in food.

The European Commission will use its power to take a final decision on whether to allow commercialisation of the potato, after national farm ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday failed to break a long-running deadlock over the issue.

Under EU rules, the European Commission, which backed BASF’s proposal, will take a final decision.

Approval was likely in the ”coming months,” the Commission said on Monday.

EU countries are sharply divided over the use of genetically modified crops, which arouse public opposition. The failure to forge an agreement on Monday underlined the tensions.

Countries that were said to have voted against the approval included Austria, Italy and Ireland, while others including France and Bulgaria were reported to have abstained. Germany was among those to back the plan.

Only a few varieties of GM crops can be grown in the EU and imports are supposed to be tightly monitored. However, production trials of GM potatoes are under way in the UK, Germany and Sweden.

The European Food Safety Authority found the BASF-produced potato to be safe for cultivation as it did not cross-pollinate or produce toxins.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said: ”There is no risk in using the potato. In this case the scientific evidence is irrefutable.”

However, Greenpeace, the environmental pressure group, had called on ministers to reject the product, warning that the EU was letting in genetically engineered crops through the back door.

Last month, the EU’s trade chief warned that the union should embrace genetically modified crops or fall foul of international rules.

Peter Mandelson, the trade commissioner, said Europe was also damaging its economy by soft-pedalling on GM approvals in the face of public pressure.

The US takes 15 months to approve GM crops but it can take considerably longer in the EU. From 2001 to 2004 the union delayed backing crops as it overhauled its labelling and approval rules.

                                  PART 4

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SOURCE: Friends of the Earth Europe, Belgium

AUTHOR: Press Release


DATE:   16.07.2007

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EU Agriculture Council rejects latest attempt to grow GMOs in Europe

16 July, Brussels - Friends of the Earth Europe has welcomed EU member states’ rejection of the latest application to grow GMOs in Europe, as the EU Agriculture Council today failed to approve the commercial growing of a genetically modified potato. There have now been no new GMOs grown in the EU for ten years.

Helen Holder, GMO Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said:?”Too few EU member states support growing genetically modified crops, and now yet another has been refused authorisation. National governments recognised the safety risks of growing this GM potato, as they have with previous applications. Now the decision is in the hands of the European Commission and we urge it to reject it too.”

Today’s vote was on an application to grow the genetically modified potato for use in industrial processes like making paper. The producer - German chemicals giant BASF - has also applied for approval to use the same potato in food and animal feed and acknowledges that contamination of the food chain is possible.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) gave the GM potato the green light, but has been criticized for overlooking several important health and environmental risks:

- Antibiotic resistance marker gene: the potato contains a gene which can convey resistance to antibiotics. Under EU law, genes of this kind should have been phased out by the end of 2004. EFSA acknowledges that the cultivation of this potato could lead to antibiotic resistance, yet argued that this did not pose a ”relevant” risk to human health or to the environment.

- The risk assessment, required under EU law, fails to fulfil legal requirements. Basic information on the health and environmental safety of the GM potato is missing; in particular there is only an analysis of effects of surrounding wildlife on the potato, rather than looking at the impact of the GM potato on the environment.

- Effects on health have not been sufficiently investigated. A number of irregularities, including toxicological differences that could have serious implications for food safety, have simply not been probed either by BASF or by EFSA

- BASF admits that food contamination is likely: the potato has been genetically modified by the chemical giant BASF to increase its amylopectin content, which is used to produce starch. Although it is not intended to enter the food chain, BASF have issued a separate application for use in human food and animal feed, stating that ”it cannot be excluded that amylopectin potato.. may be used as or may be present in food” [2].

- The risk of contaminating future crops is ignored. As they grow underground, it is virtually impossible to harvest all potatoes from a crop. Potatoes therefore grow back the following years and future crops could be contaminated with the genetically modified variant.

”No new GMOs have been grown in the European Union for 10 years now and research show that GMOs actually stimulate the economy less than green farming measures. It is time to accept that there is simply no market for genetically modified crops.”

”The big GMO companies claim that using genetically modified potatoes in industrial processes is an environmentally-friendly option, but this is absurd considering the associated health and environmental risks,” Ms Holder added.


For more information, please contact:

Rosemary Hall, Communications Officer at Friends of the Earth Europe:?Mobile +32 485 930515,

Helen Holder, Coordinator of the Friends of the Earth Europe GMOs campaign:?Mobile +32 474 857638,



[1] Application for cultivation of Amylopectin Potato Event EH92-527-1 according to Directive?2001/18

[2] Application for Amylopectin Potato Event EH92-527-1 according to Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003, BASF Plant Sciences.



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