GENET archive


PLANTS: Dutch Council of State ordered destruction of BASF GEpotato field trial

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TITLE:  Dutch Council of State ordered destruction of BASF GE potato field
SOURCE: sent by Linda Coenen, ASEED, Netherlands
AUTHOR: Linda Coenen
DATE:   09.03.2007

Last Wednesday, March 7th, The Council of State in The Netherlands
judged in a appeal by Greenpeace that the field trials of BASF had been
illegally permitted by the Ministry of Housing, Spacial Planning, and
Environment (VROM) and destroyed the permits immediately. The court
decision was based on the grounds that
1) these potatoes had been insufficiently tested in a controlled
environment (like a greenhouse or laboratory) to be release in the open, and
2) the Ministry had not been able to do a proper environmental effect
assessment (as required) since BASF had failed to provide information
specific enough for this purpose on the location of the trial sites. It
concerns three BASF GM potato varieties, two with changed starch content
similar to the Amflora-potato and one with hightened late blight
resistence. All three are also herbicide-resistent.

Court decision (Dutch):

Greenpeace press release (Dutch):

Trial descriptions:

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TITLE:  GM starch potato: still no cultivation in 2007
SOURCE: GMO Compass, Germany
DATE:   05.03.2007

GM starch potato: still no cultivation in 2007

The Amflora potato, developed by BASF Plant Science with an altered
starch composition, apparently may not yet be cultivated this year in
the EU. As reported by the magazine Agrar Europe, the European
Commission has requested an opinion from the European Medicines Agency,
EMEA, as prerequisite to an approval decision.

The subject of interest is the marker gene used in the potato, making it
resistant against the antibiotic kanamycin. GM plants are only approved
in the EU, if the containing resistance gene has no harmful effects on
health and environment. According to a current study by the World Health
Organisation, WHO, the relevant antibiotic kanamycin may have a greater
importance in veterinary medicine than has been assumed to date.
However, the European Food Safety Authority has already identified no
safety concerns which may have an adverse effect upon approval.

The Amflora potato contains only starch with the amylopectin component,
and delivers renewable raw material to the starch industry. Its
cultivation was planned already for 2007. Three cultivation areas have
been registered provisionally in the site register of the Federal Bureau
for Consumer Protection, BVL.

GMO-Compass: Amflora approval

GMO-Compass: Why Antibiotic Resistance Genes in Transgenic Plants?

GMO-Compass: Alternatives to Antibiotic Resistance Marker Genes

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                                  PART III
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SOURCE: The Ecologist, UK
AUTHOR: Andy Rees
DATE:   22.09.2007


In August 2006, German chemicals company BASF applied to start GM potato
field trials in Cambridge and Derbyshire as early as next spring. The GM
industry is making many claims about this product, but are these based
on the truth? Andy Rees investigates


Late blight (Phytophthora infestans) costs UK farmers around 50m each
year, even with regular application of fungicides. BASF claims that its
GM potato would reduce fungicide spraying from around 15 times a year to
just two.
This sounds impressive, until you realise that just 1,300 of the 12,000
tonnes of agrochemicals used on UK potatoes are fungicides - meaning
that, at most, pesticide usage would be reduced by only 10 per cent.
As far as actually reducing pesticide usage is concerned, Robert Vint of
Genetix Food Alert observes that "such claims ... usually [soon] prove
to be extreme exaggerations". The biotech industry has a long track
record of first exaggerating a problem, then offering an unproven and
oversold GM solution. A classic example of this was Monsanto's showcase
project in Africa, the GM sweet potato. It was claimed that the GM
potato would be virus resistant, that it would increase yields from four
to 10 tonnes per hectare, and that it would lift the poor of Africa out
of poverty. However, this crop not only wasn't virus-resistant, but
yielded much less than its non-GM counterpart. Moreover, the virus it
targeted was not a major factor affecting yield in Africa. The claims
were made without any peerreviewed data to back them up. And the
assertion that yields would increase from four to 10 tonnes per hectare
relied upon a lie - according to FAO statistics, non-GM potatoes
typically yield not four but 10 tonnes. Furthermore, a poorly resourced
Ugandan virus-resistant sweet potato, that really was roughly doubling
yields, was studiously ignored by the biotech lobby.
Also conveniently overlooked are any non-GM solutions to blight. Many
conventional potato varieties are naturally blight-resistant, some of
which the organic sector are currently trialling. Another non-GM
control, used by organic farmers against late blight in potatoes, is the
use of copper sprays in low doses. This is applied to the foliage of the
plant and does not contaminate the tuber.


An article in The Guardian, which reads more like a BASF press release
(the corporate takeover of the media is a subject covered in my
forthcoming book), reports that "Andy Beadle, an expert in fungal
resistance at BASF, said the risks of contamination from GM crops are
minimal because potatoes reproduce through the production of tubers,
unlike other crops such as oil seed rape [canola], which produces pollen
that can be carried for miles on the wind."
Not only is this remark economical with the facts, it seems a little
brazen given the biotech industry's rather prolific history on
contamination issues, which has resulted in at least 105 contamination
incidents (some of them major), over 10 years, and in as many as 39 countries.
Amongst many other things, Mr Beadle forgot to mention that there is
less direct risk of contamination by cross-pollination, not no risk.
Furthermore, cross-pollination is much higher when the GM and non-GM
potato varieties are different; one study showed that, even at plot-
scale, 31 per cent of plants had become hybrids as far as 1km from a GM
variety. Crosspollination also increases greatly when the chief
pollinator is the 'very common' pollen beetle, which travels
considerably further than another potato pollinator, the bumble bee.
Years later, cross-pollination is still possible through potato
volunteers (plants from a previous year's dropped tubers or seed); Defra
itself has acknowledged this problem. And similarly, 'relic' plants can
persist in fields or waste ground. What is more, blight-resistant
varieties create a far greater risk of GM contamination because the
flowering tops are more likely to be left on than with non-
blightresistant varieties. This is because tops are usually removed from
non-blight-resistant varieties to reduce disease incidence. Also, a
number of modern strains can produce considerable numbers of berries,
each producing 400 seeds; these can lay dormant for seven years, before
becoming mature tuber-producing plants.
And if all that isn't enough to suggest that 'minimal' contamination is
the figment of the corporate imagination, then it is well worth checking
out the March 2006 GM Contamination Register, set up by Greenpeace and
GeneWatch UK, and available at www. This
includes some of the worst contamination incidents to date, including
the following three.
In October 2000, in the US, GM StarLink corn, approved only as animal
feed, ended up in taco shells and other food products. It led to a
massive recall of more than 300 food brands and cost Aventis an immense
$1 billion to clear up. StarLink corn was just one per cent of the total
crop, but it tainted 50 per cent of the harvest. In March 2005, Syngenta
admitted that it had accidentally produced and disseminated - between
2001 and 2004 - 'several hundred tonnes' of an unapproved corn called
Bt10 and sold the seed as approved corn, Bt11. In the US, 150,000 tonnes
of Bt10 were harvested and went into the food chain. And in April 2005,
unauthorised GM Bt rice was discovered to have been sold and grown
unlawfully for the past two years in the Chinese province of Hubei. An
estimated 950 to 1200 tons of the rice entered the food chain after the
2004 harvest, with the risk of up to 13,500 tons entering the food chain
in 2005. The rice may also have contaminated China's rice exports. And
now, in 2006, BASF's application comes amidst the latest biotech
scandal, that of US rice contamination by an unauthorised, experimental
GM strain, Bayer's LLRice 601.


The GM lobby have proposed a buffer zone of 2-5m of fallow land around
the GM potato crop, together with a 20m separation with non-GM potato crops.
The National Pollen Research Unit (NPRU), on the other hand, has
recommended separation distances of 500m. Interestingly, pro-industry
sources have always claimed that only very small separation distances
are necessary, with buffer zones for rape set at a derisory 200m in the
UK crop trials. Judith Jordan (later Rylott) of AgrEvo (now Bayer) gave
evidence under oath that the chances of cross-pollination beyond 50m
were as likely as getting pregnant from a lavatory seat. Well, you have
been warned. But oilseed rape pollen has been found to travel 26km,
maize pollen 5km, and GM grass pollen 21km.
Meanwhile, good ol' Defra is once again paving the way for the biotech
industry, with its so-called 'co-existence' paper of August 2006. This
will determine the rules for commercial GM crop growing in England - yet
astonishingly, it proposes no separation distances. GM contamination
prevention measures will be left in the slippery hands of the GM
industry in the form of a voluntary code of practice.


The biotech industry has from the very beginning assured us that their
products are entirely safe. This is because, they claim, they are so
similar to conventional crops as to be 'Substantially Equivalent', a
discredited concept that led to GM crop approval in the US (and thence
the EU).
The truth is that, as far as human health goes, the biotech industry
cannot know that their products are safe, because there has only been
one published human health study - the Newcastle Study, which was
published in 2004. And although this research project was very limited
in scope, studying the effects of just one GM meal taken by seven
individuals, it nonetheless found GM DNA transferring to gut bacteria in
the human subjects.
As for tests of the effects of GM crops on animals, there are only
around 20 published studies that look at the health effects of GM food
(not hundreds, as claimed by the biotech lobby), as well as some
unpublished ones. The findings of many of these are quite alarming. The
unpublished study on the FlavrSavr tomato fed to rats, resulted in
lesions and gastritis in these animals. Monsanto's unpublished 90-day
study of rats fed MON863 maize resulted in smaller kidney sizes and a
raised white blood cell count. And when it comes to GM potatoes, Dr Ewen
and Dr Pusztai's 1999 10-day study on male rats fed GM potatoes,
published in the highly respected medical journal The Lancet, showed
that feeding GM potatoes to rats led to many abnormalities, including:
gut lesions; damaged immune systems; less developed brains, livers, and
testicles; enlarged tissues, including the pancreas and intestines; a
proliferation of cells in the stomach and intestines, which may have
signalled an increased potential for cancer; and the partial atrophy of
the liver in some animals. And this is in an animal that is virtually


The proposed UK trials would follow those being carried out in Germany,
Sweden and the Netherlands. Barry Stickings of BASF explains: "We need
to conduct these [in the UK] to see how the crop grows in different
conditions. I hope that society, including the NGOs, realise that all we
are doing is increasing choice."
So, how much choice has GM crops given farmers? Well, in Canada, within
a few years, the organic canola industry was pretty much wiped out by GM
contamination. And in the US, a 2004 study showed that, after just eight
years of commercial growing, at least 50 per cent of conventional maize
and soy and 83 per cent of conventional canola were GM-contaminated -
again dooming non-GM agriculture.


Regarding BASF's application to trial GM potatoes, the Financial Times
reported that "Barry Stickings of BASF said he did not expect too much
opposition to the application". What had clearly slipped Stickings' mind
was that BASF had already faced protests with this product in Sweden,
where it is in its second year of production.
In Ireland, where one may have expected more enthusiasm for the project,
given the history of blight during the 1840s famine, BASF was given the
go-ahead earlier this year for trials of its GM blight-resistant potato,
only to face stiff public resistance and rigorous conditions enforced by
the Irish Environmental Protection Agency. BASF later discontinued the trials.
In the UK and Europe, as Friends of the Earth points out: "Consumers ...
have made it clear that they do not want ... GM food." In fact, the
British Retail Consortium, which represents British supermarkets, has
already stated that they 'won't be stocking GM potatoes for the
conceivable future' because 'people remain suspicious of GM.' My
forthcoming book goes into the rejection of GM crops in more depth.
And even more surprisingly, in the US, where 55 per cent of the world's
GM crops are grown, GM potatoes were taken off the market back in 2000
when McDonald's, Burger King, McCain's and Pringles all refused to use
them, for fear of losing customers.
So, having reviewed the claims made about BASF's GM potatoes, and having
found them, well, somewhat lacking, there is only one course of action
open to the government, and that is, as Friends of the Earth's GM
Campaigner Liz Wright recently said, to "...reject this application and
prevent any GM crops from being grown in the UK until it can guarantee
that they won't contaminate our food, farming and environment."

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                                  PART IV
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TITLE:  GM Spuds - Industry Can't Agree on Blight Costs
AUTHOR: Press Release
DATE:   28.02.2007

GM Spuds - Industry Can't Agree on Blight Costs

BASF, the company wanting to field test GM potatoes in Cambridgeshire
and Humberside [1] over the next five years, and the British Potato
Council (BPC) cannot agree about the annual costs of blight damage in UK

BASF want to test GM potatoes engineered to resist blight. They claim
[2] that the annual losses due to blight amount to 50 million per year
with 20 million needed to pay for fungicides.  In contrast, BPC [3] put
the cost of damage due to blight at 3 million.  They agree with BASF on
the costs of fungicide spray.

GM Freeze has assessed the claims made about the losses due to blight by
BASF. Based on BPC's average price [5] of 135 per tonne, a 50 million
loss would equate to 370,000 tonnes of potatoes or 6.2% of total
production of 6m tonnes annually (BPC figures). Using BPCs figures, the
losses would be just 22,250 tonnes per year or 0.4% of the total crop.

Blight is a serious fungal disease of potatoes.  In recent years
considerable progress has been made in predicting the occurrence of
blight and in developing varieties which are naturally resistant to the
disease.  At present 20% of the most popular commercial varieties offer
good resistance to the disease and potato breeding lines introduced from
Hungary are producing highly resistant strains [4].

The BPC Flight Against Blight (FAB) campaign monitors the blight
population regularly to check for new strains of the fungus which in the
past few decades has developed the capacity to reproduce sexually as
well as asexually.    The latest BPC finding "indicates that strains are
not successfully mating in Britain and producing oospores which could
otherwise lead to difficulties controlling the disease" [5].  However,
they call upon growers "to stay alert for signs of blight and control
sources of infection such as outgrade piles and volunteers" and to sign
up to FAB and BPC's Blight Watch which monitors the disease around the

Defra issued a consent to BASF in December 2007 to release the GM
potatoes in Derbyshire and Cambridgeshire.  In an unusual step, the
consent was personally signed by Secretary of State David Miliband
instead of senior civil servants.  The Derbyshire site was withdrawn two
weeks later and this week BASF informed Defra of a replacement site at
Hedon in Humberside.  The trials will last 5 years.

Commenting of the lack of agreement between BASF and the BPC Pete Riley
of GM Freeze said:

"BASF clearly have a vested interested in exaggerating the costs of
potato blight losses - they want to sell the idea of GM potatoes to
farmers and politicians.  BPC don't have to inflate the costs of damage.
We'll leave it to readers to decide who is likely to be more accurate.
Mr Miliband has firmly nailed his colours to the GM mast by personally
endorsing these GM trials. Let's hope he has not been taken in by BASF's
hype and that gets he gets better advice if he ever has to make decision
on whether these GM potatoes can be grown commercially.  GM won't solve
the blight problem because the disease can evolve into new strains.
What is needed is an integrated approach of conventionally breeding
resistant varieties, close monitoring and very strict hygiene to
minimise the use of fungicides".

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341065 or 01226 790713


1. BASF press release 27th February.  See also

2. As above.

3. British Potato Council Growers Advice Fight Against Blight

4. Sarpo varieties are being developed by the Sartavi Research Trust.  See for

for more information.

5. BPC press release February 2007

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