The first GM product in almost a decade will soon be approved for cultivation in Europe, when the EU commission licences a new potato used for starch production.

The variety is the Amflora potato, produced by BASF of Germany, which has been engineered to produce high levels of starch for industrial uses like papermaking, rather than food consumption.

EU farm ministers this week considered a proposal from the EU commission to licence the product.

As in the past, the 27 ministers were split on the issue, but there was not enough opposition to reject the proposal outright, enabling the commission to approve it under its own jurisdiction. This it will do in mid-September.

The European Food Safety Authority has found the potato to be safe for cultivation as it does not cross-pollinate or produce toxins and is harvested before potential seeds can mature.

But this has been challenged by environmental lobbyists Friends of the Earth, which says the potato contains a marker gene that could lead to antibiotic resistance. It also claims the full environmental impacts have not been properly assessed.

FOE is calling on the commission to reject the application, though this seems highly unlikely.

Since the EU moratorium on GM licences was lifted in 2004, the EU commission has granted several licences for new GM products to be imported and used in food processing.

The BASF potato will be the first to get the all-clear for cultivation.