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New GM potatoes to be planted by Czech farmers soon

3. 3. 2008 17:50
EU approval blocked by one man only

Amflora potatoes

Amflora potatoes

  • German company BASF developed Amflora as potato specie suitable for being utilized in food and other industries.
  • In contrast to other species of potatoes, starch from Amflora potatoes contains three quarters of amylopectin and one quarter of amylases.
  • The first type of Amflora contains only amylopectin, hence is suitable for use in textile and paper industries.
  • Containing only amylases, the second type of Amflora is optimal for production of biodegradable plastics and use in food industry. Fried food covered by this starch will absorb less fat.
  • Both types are mould-resistant.

Prague - Potato is the 4th most important food crop in the world - after rice, wheat and corn - and has been a staple for millions of poor people in the developing world with almost nothing else on the table. That is one of the reasons why the year 2008 was declared the International Year of the Potato by the United Nations.

But potatoes have also become a subject of heated debates over its genetically modified versions.

Czech farmers could be reaping a new specie of the genetically modified (GM) potatoes with superior starch more befitting the human organism next year. 

Experts agree that this would broaden the possibilities of Czech potato producers.

However, in spite of positive results of obligatory field tests, the specie called Amflora is now blocked from being introduced to the market by European Commissioner for the Environment Stavros Dimas.

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According to Marie Čeřovská from the Czech Ministry of Agriculture, the European Commission (EC) has approved the introduction of Amflora potatoes to the market as feeding material and food component already last year. 

One-man blockade

Nonetheless, the document could have been signed by Stavros Dimas for about six months now.

"Unfortunately, Commissioner Dimas doesn't accept scientific arguments, his beliefs aren't based on empirical knowledge, he just keeps repeating tendentious phrases all over again," complained Jaroslav Drobník, a professor from Department of Genetics and Microbiology of Charles University in Prague. 

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According to Čeřovská, the usage of Amflora potatoes was advised by the European Food Security Agency linked to the EU, that´s why Dimas cannot postpone his approval forever.

However, when he finally lets the potatoes to be introduced to the market, a paradoxical situation is likely to emerge.

The EC has recommended the Amflora specie to be planted in EU countries, but this decision wasn't approved by the Council of ministers at its February session.

This may result in Amflora specie being approved for consumption, but not for planting.

"Cheap argument"

The idea of Amflora potatoes to be used in food and other industries is criticized by the Greenpeace and other environmentalists' organizations.

They believe those that consume modified potatoes can become resistant to some antibiotics.

According to Drobník, this is "cheap argument, refuted a long time ago, for example by EFSA".

Also, there are general principles not linked to particular case of modified potatoes.

"Every microbiologist knows that gene being transferred from plants to germs has never been manifested.  In addition, all experts know that in every gram of soil, there are hundreds of thousands of bacilli resistant to kanamycin, neomycin and similar aminoglycoside antibiotics. Hence, it's pointless to fear antibiotic resistance," exaplined Drobník.  

autor: Petr Havel | 3. 3. 2008 17:50

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