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GMOs: Black Potato Getting Too Hot To Handle…

  • July 19th, 2007
  • Posted by EUEditor

fields-resize2.jpgA battle over genetically modified products being let into the environment has focused on a black potato, which Europe’s Agriculture Ministers have fumbled with a few times – and declared too hot to endorse.

MINISTERS COULD NOT DECIDE

The Ministers attending the European Council (Agriculture and Fisheries) this week (16.6.07) failed to approve, by qualified majority, a proposal to allow cultivation of the altered vegetable.

It had been put up for industrial use, not as a food, because of its starch content; with some benign words of support from the executive European Commission, which said it had been through rigorous scientific checks and when planted did not spread over wide areas; (see EUAustralia, 9.12.06, “Unwanted Potatoes …”).

In one of the peculiarities of EU government the failure of the Council to back the proposal has not killed it, as a report from the Council says the question has now gone back to the Commission, for it to make a decision.

POTATO POLITICS NOW HEATING UP

Such a decision will be made under very hard scrutiny as it will follow a chequered history, as spelt out in the Council report:

Swedish authorities first tested the genetically modified product — for the record, known as Solanum Tuberosum L. line EH92-527-1, or the BASF potato, for its commercial promoters — and asked for it to be allowed out onto the market.

They wanted the genetically enhanced content of the amylopectin component of the starch.

Some of the other EU member governments raised objections, referring to unsatisfactory “molecular characterisation, allergicity, toxicity, and an inadequate monitoring plan and detection method for the product.”

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was given the reference and said in February last year the variety when modified was unlikely to have an adverse effect on human or animal health or the environment, in the context of its proposed use.

However last December a regulatory committee consulted by the European Commission could not decide on an opinion.

GREENS HARD AGAINST IT

The Greenpeace organisation, opposed to proliferation of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) has declared EH92-527-1 black; opposition to the proposal for its use is becoming a cause celebre of environmental wars.

Greenpeace said this week in Brussels (16.7.07):

“The EU could be on the verge of letting controversial genetically engineered crops ‘in through the back door’ …

“The EU Agriculture ministers will vote on a proposal by the European Commission to allow the large scale cultivation of a controversial genetically engineered potato which includes genes for resistance to antibiotics, to be used for starch production and as animal feed.

“If approved, this would be the first time since 1998 that a genetically engineered plant is authorised for growing in the EU…

“Under EU law, genes of this kind which may have adverse effects on human health and the environment should have been phased out by the end of 2004.

“Despite this, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) gave a positive opinion on the BASF potato, stating that its antibiotic resistance genes do not pose a ‘relevant’ risk to human health or the environment.

“The EFSA does not rule out, however, that the cultivation of the potato could lead to antibiotic resistance effects.

“Given that, and considering the industrial scale cultivation for which the potato is designed, Greenpeace considers the approach by the EFSA dangerous.”

Marco Contiero, policy adviser on GMOs at the Greenpeace European Unit, said:

“The BASF potato did not undergo full risk assessment as required under EU law:

“The European Commission is asking Member States to approve the BASF potato, even though basic information on its health and environmental impacts is missing …

“If approved, the potato can be legally planted anywhere in the EU, even though most member states still have no measures in place to protect conventional and organic agriculture from contamination by genetically engineered plants.”

The environmentalist organisation has provided a chronology of events and background documents on the product.

References:

Greenpeace Europe, “EU vote on commercial cultivation …”, Brussels, 16.6.06; http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/press-centre/press-releases2/EU-vote-on-GE-potato (18.7.07)

Council of the European Union, 1168/07 (Presse 167) Provisional Version, Press Release, 2815th Council meeting, Agriculture and Fisheries, Brussels, 16.7.07; http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/en/agricult/95308.pdf (18.7.07)

MORE ON ENVIRONMENT

The Environment Committee of the European Parliament, the third arm of EU government, has endorsed plans by the European Commission for a ban on aerial spraying with pesticides.

The ban proposal is included in a new draft strategy for sustainable handling of pesticides, recognising the importance of pest control and balancing it against protection for human health and the environment.

Intended new legislation, a European Directive, would include:

-National action plans by EU countries to identify crops, activities or areas most at risk from pesticides, together with targets for tackling the problems

-Training for professional users of pesticides and awareness-raising for the public

-Rules on inspections of pesticide equipment and on the handling and storage of pesticides

-Special measures to protect water from pesticide pollution

-Special measures to identify areas where zero or very little pesticide use is to be allowed

-A ban on aerial spraying with pesticides, albeit with derogations

A proposal to reduce the aeriel spraying control to “regulation” of the practice was knocked back by the Parliamentary committee.

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