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UK government allows GM potatoes

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has approved a new round of genetically modified potato research trials. What this means is that GM potatoes will be grown in the UK at selected sites, despite the fact that the British public consistently reject GM food. The trials will be to test similar traits to tests currently underway in other European countries, and as such will not add to human knowledge despite the risks of contaminating the main British potato crop.

Tom Heap, the BBC’s rural affairs correspondent, said:

“This will be the first GM crop to be planted outside the lab for the last three years. Similar scientific tests are already underway in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. The company, BASF, wants to grow potatoes that are resistant to blight. One of the things that some people are worried about is how you stop GM contamination. The British Potato Council is worried about the image of potatoes if in the consumers mind they are associated with GM.”

Peter Melchett from the Soil Association said commented on the Government’s announcement:

“This is a stupid decision. Everyone is against it. Nobody thinks that GM potatoes will seriously be used by British consumers or bought by them. Organic farmers are worried about contamination of our crops. There are real risks. American farmers have found this year that the whole of their long grain rice crop has been contaminated as a result of a trial that took place and finished over five years ago. This isn’t something that you can control and the idea that this will deal with a problem like blight is a fantasy. Blight is a disease, which evolved very quickly, you knock it back one way and it comes back another. 12,000 tons of fungicide is used on potatoes in this country and just over 1,000 is used to control blight and anyway if people don’t eat these potatoes, what’s the point.”

“In America, four years ago, all the major potato using companies and consumers decided they didn’t want GM potatoes. McCains and McDonalds said they won’t use GM potatoes years ago. All the big companies, all the British supermarkets, the British Potato Council… nobody wants this.”

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