BASF disappointed at Amflora decision delay

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Potato starch, Starch

BASF is standing by the safety of its Amflora genetically optimised
starch potato as the EU Council of Ministers postpones its decision
on commercial optimisation, and urges swifter adoption of new
technologies for the bloc.

Amflora was referred to the Council of Ministers for a decision over whether it may be commercially cultivated in Europe in December, after the EC's regulatory committee failed to meet a qualified majority. The German firm has stressed that the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) has "repeatedly stated that Amflora is for humans, animals and the environment as safe as any conventional potato".​ The grounds for the postponement have not been disclosed, and it was not known at time of publication when a decision may be forthcoming. In the event that the vote in the Council of Ministers does not result in a qualified majority either, the European Commission will decide on the dossier. The ongoing delay is certainly a frustration for BASF, which has high hopes the potato will be the first genetically enhanced product to be approved for cultivation in Europe since 1998. A small number of GM products have been allowed however, as a result of a default process that applies after a period of non-agreement. For BASF, it is symptomatic of a head-in-the-sand attitude to biotech innovation in Europe, which many believe will cause it to be left behind as the rest of the world marches on. Earlier this month trade commissioner Peter Mandelson delivered a strong exhortation to the EU to take a lead in shaping global rules on GM trade - particularly in defending objective science as a benchmark - or suffer the economic consequences.​He called biotechnology "the coal face of applied science in the 21st​ century"and said that if the EU​ does not work through the issues raised by GM food, just as the rest of the global market is doing, it will not be working it its own best interests. And if the EU falls behind in approving safe biotechnology, it would open itself up to economic risks. BASF plant science president and CEO Dr Hans Kast said: "We call upon Europe's politicians to show their true commitment to innovation and speed up the approval of new technologies and their resulting products."​ He called Amflora "a perfect example of an innovative product, which benefits the entire value chain from farmers to producers."​ Amflora, a renewable resource, helps to save raw materials, energy and costs in industrial production through its optimized starch composition. Nearly all starches have two components - a high molecular weight, highly branched molecule with excellent thickening properties, called amylopectin, and a smaller, linear molecule which gels, called amylose. Amflora is a genetically optimised potato that produces pure amylopectin starch. BASF said that this breakthrough was achieved by tweaking the pathway by which it is made in the plant cells. The 20 per cent amylose in normal potato starch limits its usefulness for many industrial applications. Separation of the two components is not economic, so most industrial starch is first chemically modified to reduce the gelling tendency. Europe is already a significant producer of potato starch. Normal potato starch is valued for its high molecular weight (giving excellent thickening properties) and low levels of fat and protein compared to wheat and cornstarch. EuropaBio has spoken out in favour of Amflora, saying it would strengthen the competitiveness of the potato starch industry. Environmentalists have argued that the cultivation of GM potatoes would increase the risk of contamination of the food chain. But the European Association for BioIndustries has said that the innovation was only made possible through genetic modification.

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