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article imageLegal challenge seeks to revoke permission for GE spud, Amflora

By Stephanie Dearing     Oct 6, 2010 in Business
A growing number of European countries have decided to fight the European Commission's approval of the genetically modified potato called Amflora.
According to a press release issued by Greenpeace EU Tuesday, five European nations have now committed to fight the European Commission's approval of the Amflora Potato. According to the corporation that created the Amflora potato, BASF Chemicals, the spud was created for its starch which would be used for industrial purposes, such as making paper and packaging. It will also be used for livestock feed.
Since the European Commission approved the potato for production in March this year, the potato has been grown in Sweden, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
The problem, said Greenpeace EU, is that the Amflora potato contains an antibiotic resistant gene. The legal challenge launched by Hungary and joined by France, Poland, Austria and Luxembourg claims "... the Commission acted illegally in authorising the GM potato, known as Amflora, which contains an antibiotic-resistance gene. [2] The antibiotics affected by this gene are vital to combat deadly diseases such as tuberculosis and under EU law, antibiotic-resistance genes that can threaten human health and the environment should have been phased out by the end of 2004. The World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency also say these antibiotics are of “critical importance”."
BASF uses antibiotic resistant genes as "markers." GMO Compass explained why, saying "The techniques used for transferring a new gene into a plant are rather inefficient. Very few cells actually take up the gene of interest; when conditions are favourable, only some five cells in a thousand are genetically modified. Most often this ratio is lower. In order to find the cells that have been successfully transformed, some kind of marker is needed.
To do this, the gene that will give the plant its new trait (gene of interest) is coupled with a marker gene. Plant cells are then transformed with both genes simultaneously. The vast majority of these marker genes work by giving genetically modified cells the ability to break down a poisonous substance.
Plant cells expressing an antibiotic resistance marker gene (ABR gene) are thus not harmed by that antibiotic. Treating the cells after the gene transfer with an antibiotic allows only the successfully transformed cells to survive. These cells also possess the gene of interest. Genetically modified plants containing the gene of interest are then regenerated from these individual, successfully transformed cells.
Although the marker gene serves no purpose after this procedure, it remains part of the genetically modified plant. Removing a marker gene from an existing transgenic plant is virtually impossible. Some techniques exist to remove marker genes, but they cannot be implemented retroactively."
Spokesperson for Greenpeace EU, Stefanie Hundsdorfer said "... The Commission should immediately stop rubberstamping GM crops that have not been properly tested and withdraw the authorisation of the antibiotic-resistant GM potato.
"... The company openly admitted in its application in 2005 [3] that it would be impossible to keep Amflora out of the human food chain. The Commission therefore also granted BASF the right to contaminate human food by up to 0.9%, meaning GM food could end up directly on our plates. BASF botched its first Amflora growing season this year by accidentally mixing in seed from an untested GM potato known as Amadea.
The Amadea contamination debacle clearly shows that GM crops cannot be controlled and that this puts the environment and our health at risk. Even during the first, still small-scale planting of this GM potato, BASF was not able to prevent a mix-up.”
Hundsdorfer was referring to the case this past summer when an unapproved, and thus illegal, potato being developed by BASF, called Amadea, was found growing amongst a crop of Amflora potatoes. BASF was summoned to the European Commission to explain how the Amadea had gotten into the planting, and BASF said it had made an error. BASF's President of Plant Science said in a press release issued in late September, "We traced back the cause and can narrow the comingling down to a part of our harvest in Sweden. The mix-up occurred because Amadea and Amflora plants were in close proximity to each other at our facilities. We regret this very much. To prevent such mistakes in the future, we will ensure complete separation of the production systems for Amadea and Amflora.”
BASF also claims the unapproved potato did not enter the commercial stream, saying the company had destroyed all the potatoes in the field of concern.
The European Commission has recently adopted a new process for dealing with applications to permit the production of genetically modified agricultural crops, with the Commission approving the GE plants. Each individual country can decide for itself whether to let farmers make use of the technology. Last month, Reuters interviewed a European Commission executive, Health and Consumer Chief, John Dalli. Dalli assured Reuters "The process will go on, the process is going on. We are not going to wait."
In 2007, BASF told Bloomberg the potential for Amflora was thought to be worth 30 million euros a year in unrealized profits. BASF joined with Monsanto to get Amflora off the ground in a market that Bloomberg said was worth $20 billion a year. At the time, Bloomberg reported that BASF already owned patents for more than 35,000 genes.
More about Amflora, Potato, European commission, Greenpeace europe, Legal challenge
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