Campaigners protest against GM spuds

More than 60 campaigners descended on the John Innes Centre on the outskirts of Norwich in protest against genetically-modified potatoes.

The protest on Saturday (23 July) was against a GM trial by scientists at the Sainsbury Laboratory who are working on blight-resistant potato varieties.

To highlight their cause, campaigners ate organic chips in Norwich city centre before delivering a trailer-load of organic, blight-resistant potatoes to the laboratory.

The campaigners claim £1.7m of public money has been spent to find a GM blight-resistant potato without success.

Meanwhile, they claim, the Wales-based Sarvari Research Trust has succeeded in breeding several varieties of blight-resistant, non-GM potatoes.

Lisa Smith of organisers Stop GM said: “People are outraged at such a scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money and do not want to see GM foods sold, used or grown in the UK.”

The John Innes GM trial is being funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The aim of the current research is to develop a pipeline of blight resistance genes to protect the most popular commercial varieties against late blight.

The £1.7m quoted was the sum of five different projects, much of it fundamental research and not specifically related to the current trial, said the BBSRC.

At the moment, UK farmers spent an average of £60m every year to tackle blight – a disease which caused global losses of about £3.5bn.

Research leader Jonathan Jones said: “We welcome the opportunity to discuss our work with people who are interested, for whatever reason, in what we are doing.”

Some of the research involved developing a better understanding of the blight pathogen Phytophthora infestans, said Professor Jones.

Other research involved developing a better understanding of how the wild Solanum (potato) species was able to naturally resist blight, due to its genetics.

The knowledge gained at the Sainsbury Laboratory could be used in conventional breeding, as well as being used to investigate a GM approach.

Although blight resistant, the conventionally-bred Savari variety had not been widely adopted because different potatoes were needed for different purposes.

Some 200 different varieties were currently grown in Great Britain to meet market needs, said Mike Storey, head of research and development at the Potato Council.

A range of different varieties was needed for extended cropping, from first earlies in February to maincrops up until October, as well as for different soil types.

“No one variety meets our national needs,” said Mr Storey. “In fact, around 200 different varieties are grown in Britain to meet the needs of our market place.”

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