EU Paves Way for GMO Potato

The genetically modified potato developed by Germany's BASF is expected to become the first GMO crop allowed in Europe since 1998

The European Commission is set to approve the cultivation of a genetically modified variety of potato, following a stalemate among EU member states. Brussels argues the product is safe despite some NGOs claiming the opposite.

EU farm ministers failed on Monday (14 July) to agree on the large-scale cultivation of GM potato Amflora, developed by German chemicals giant BASF.

Germany, UK and Sweden reportedly supported the authorisation while Austria, Ireland and Italy led the camp of its opponents. Several countries, including France, abstained.

The split among the countries and their incapability to reach a qualified majority means the decision will be passed on to the European Commission.

Barbara Helfferich, the commission's spokeswoman for environment, said on Monday the EU executive would support the go-ahead for the controversial potato with the formal approval likely in the "coming months".

"It has been analyzed and it is safe," she insisted, referring to the opinion of the European Food Safety Authority which had stated the GM potato is safe for cultivation.

The product is intended for use in industrial processes, such as making paper. But its producer also called for the approval to use it in food and animal feed.

Environment groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth argue that it could contaminate the food chain and future crops, highlighting that the potato contains a gene which can convey resistance to antibiotics.

"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 the Friends of the Earth.

If approved by the Commission, the Amflora potato would be the first GMO crop allowed in Europe since 1998 following an EU moratorium on such authorizations. Brussels formally ended the blockade in 2004.

European farmers, industrial food and chemical producers complained that the bloc's stringent position against the GMOs created a disadvantage for them against their foreign competitors.

In 2006, the World Trade Organisation ruled that the EU was unfairly blocking GMOs from entering its markets.

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