The EU’s Hot Potato | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: August 1, 2008

The EU’s Hot Potato

BASF sues over approval of a genetically modified plant
Department: Business

BASF has filed suit against the European Commission (EC) in the European Court of First Instance over delays in approving its genetically modified Amflora potato. The potato has been altered to produce pure amylopectin starch, used primarily in the paper industry.

The company first filed for approval for Amflora in 1996, prior to Europe’s 1998–2004 moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In 2003, the European Union adopted a stringent process to approve imports and cultivation of GMOs. The only GMO crop grown in Europe today is corn genetically modified for insect resistance.

In 2006, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that Amflora potatoes are no more likely to cause adverse effects than conventional potatoes. EFSA’s proposal to approve the potato received inconclusive committee votes in 2006 and 2007, a deadlock that means the EC is supposed to approve it.

According to the EC, the holdup is due to BASF’s use of antibiotic resistance marker genes in its process for inserting novel starch genes into the potato’s DNA. The commission is concerned about the possibility of gene transfer into animals and humans.

As recently as 2004, EFSA confirmed the safety of the nptII marker gene used in Amflora. Now, approval for Amflora hinges on the outcome of a new report on the technology, which EFSA says will be out no earlier than Dec. 15.

Mette Johansson, a spokeswoman for BASF Plant Science, tells C&EN: “We have nothing against the strict approval process, but we want politicians to stick to it. We fear that, for political reasons, the commission is not acting according to the science.”

The environmental group Friends of the Earth Europe favors restricting the use of marker genes. “Protecting antibiotics is essential,” food and farming campaigner Adrian Bebb says. “Introducing antibiotic resistance genes into potatoes is crass and unnecessary.”

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