Amflora approval is a hot potato in GM debate

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union

The European Commission’s approval of BASF’s GM Amflora potato for cultivation in the EU could mark the end of European deadlock over genetic modification, and has been celebrated and decried with equal measure by commentators on both sides of the debate.

Although the potato’s main use is non-food (the pure amylopectin starch can be used to make paper, concrete and glue), the by-products may find uses in feed. The cultivation approval, announced yesterday, is significant because it is the first granted by the Commission since 1998.

In the last 12 years GM technology has been politically divisive, and applications have bounced back and forth between the law-making institutions. BASF has been waiting 13 years for Amflora to be approved. It now looks set for cultivation in Sweden, Germany and the Czech Republic this year.

A clutch of requests for permission to import GM crops for food and feed uses in the EU have gone through, but not via the standard approvals channel. At the same time as the Amflora approval, the Commission has also granted approval for importation and processing of three other GM maize, from Monsanto – MON863xMON810, MON863xNK603, MON863xMON810xNK603.

As in previous incidences, these GM products were passed by the Commission after the dossiers were sent back by the Council, as member states had failed to return a qualified majority. All three have received a positive opinion from EFSA – as has Amflora.

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Stefan Marcinowski, member of the board of executive directors of BASF

Sweden, said of the Amflora approval: “We hope that this decision is a milestone for further innovative products that will promote a competitive and sustainable agriculture in Europe.”

The approval has been welcomed by EuropaBio, the bioindustry trade association.

“We feel encouraged by this decisive regulatory approach”​ said Willy De Greef, EuropaBio’s Secretary General. “It offers the necessary predictability to industry and also to the general public regarding the development of a technology that has much to offer to Europeans as a whole”.

De Greef pointed out that another 17 products are going through the approval process for cultivation and 44 products awaiting authorization for food and feed as well as for import and processing in the EU. “However, today’s approvals represent a step in the right direction and a return to science-based decision making,”​ he said.

Anti-GMO stakeholders have expressed their dismay. Their concerns stem partly from worries over an Amflora gene that is resistant to antibiotics. If this gene were to leak into the food chain, they predict serious implications for human and animal health care.

They are also angry that the move has been made when Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli has only been in his job a matter of weeks.

German Green MEP Martin Häusling, a member of the European Parliament's agriculture committee, reportedly said the decision shows "flagrant support for industry interests ahead of his own portfolio”.

His decision to authorise the Amflora potato variety flies in the face of the 70 per cent of consumers who are against GM food, as well as the anti-GM position of the European Parliament.

Greenpeace EU's agriculture policy director Marco Contiero also said: “It is shocking that one of the Commission's first official acts is to authorise a GM crop that puts the environment and public health at risk."

According to Bavo van den Idsert, vice-president of organic farmers group IFOAM, if Amflora is widely grown in the EU, “organic and conventional farmers and food processors will have to face even higher costs keeping food production chains free from GMOs".

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