Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Tuesday, 2 March 2010

GM potato cleared for EU farming

BASF's Amflora potatoes
The Amflora potato has not been cleared for human consumption

The European Commission has cleared the way for a genetically modified potato to be grown in the EU - only the second GM product it has allowed.

The starch of the Amflora potato can be utilised for industrial uses like making paper, and for animal feed - but not for human consumption.

Environmental groups have strongly opposed the introduction of GM crops.

But the Commission insisted its decision was based on "a considerable volume of sound science".

Planting this spring

The Amflora variety was developed by German chemical and biotechnology firm BASF, for the special qualities of its starch.

BASF says: "Amflora starch can be used in many different ways. It makes yarn stronger and paper glossier; it also makes spray concrete adhere better to the wall and keeps glue liquid for longer."

But it has been a political hot potato for seven years.

BASF applied to grow it in Sweden in 2003. Sweden agreed but was obliged to seek EU permission.

The Council of ministers - the committee of national governments - has been unable to agree a decision, passing the issue back into the hands of the Commission.

Even though it has now been cleared, individual countries still have the right to decide whether it should be grown on their territory.

The potato is expected to be planted in the Czech Republic and Germany this spring, and Sweden and the Netherlands in following years.

The only other GM product currently grown commercially in the EU is Monsanto's MON 810 maize, which was cleared back in 1998.

It is grown in five countries - Spain, the Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal and Slovakia.

On Tuesday, the EU Commission also allowed three GM maize products to be placed on the European market, though not grown in Europe.

'Bad day'

Some countries remain firmly opposed to the cultivation of GM crops, arguing that they could eventually reduce biodiversity and natural resistance to pests and disease, and that it is very hard to stop them cross-pollinating with non-GM crops.

Italy said it objected to the Commission's decision.

German Green MEP Martin Hausling said it "flies in the face of the 70% of consumers who are against GM food".

"This is a bad day for European citizens and the environment," Friends of the Earth told the AFP news agency.

It said the Amflora potato "carries a controversial antibiotic resistant gene which it cannot be guaranteed will not enter the food chain".

The Commission said it was imposing strict conditions on the cultivation of Amflora to address some of the environmental concerns.

For instance, the potato "will be cultivated and harvested before it produces seeds".

It said growing this form of potato "helps to optimise the production process and to save raw materials, energy, water and oil based chemicals".

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