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GM Potato to Take Root

DW staff / DPA (als) July 17, 2007

EU farm ministers failed to break a deadlock over plans to allow the cultivation of a controversial genetically engineered potato, leaving the decision by default to the EU Commission which favors its introduction.

GM potatoes are only to be used for starch production and animal feedImage: picture-alliance/dpa

EU rules mandate the commission -- the EU's executive body -- to act on its authority on some key issues if the bloc's governments cannot resolve their differences.

The commission has said it favors the introduction of the genetically modified potato -- which includes genes that make it resistant to antibiotics -- since it will only be used for starch production and as animal feed.

"It will not enter the nutritional chain," said a commission spokeswoman.

If the commission goes ahead with the authorization, it will be the first time since 1998 that a genetically engineered plant is given permission for large-scale cultivation in the EU.

However, the commission decision could take some time.

But international environmental group Greenpeace said an EU go-ahead for cultivation of the potato would amount to allowing controversial genetically modified crops to enter the EU "through the back door."

Made in Germany

Italy and Austria are leading the group of EU states which oppose the cultivation of genetically modified crops in the bloc. Other states, including Britain, favor the move.

Greenpeace has called on governments to reject the potato, which has been developed by German chemical company BASF, saying it poses significant risks to health and the environment.

EU rules demand that genes which may have adverse effects on human health and the environment should be phased out.

However, the European Food Safety Authority has given a positive opinion on the BASF-developed potato, saying its antibiotic resistance genes do not pose a "relevant" risk to human health or the environment.

Greenpeace has warned that the genetically engineered potato did not undergo full risk assessment including its effect on biodiversity. The organization also said the potato could contaminate the food chain.

Environmentalists worry that GM potatoes interfere with the food chain