GM ‘watershed’ for biotech industry

The first GM crop variety to win European Union approval for more than a decade is being hailed as a watershed for the biotech industry – even though it is unlikely to be grown in the UK.

After a 13 year battle, Brussels finally granted approval for Amflora, BASF‘s genetically optimised starch potato, on Tuesday (2 March). The potato will be used for commercial production of industrial starch. It is not approved for food use.

Amflora is only the second GM variety to receive the all clear for European cultivation. Although unlikely to be grown here, it is seen as the most significant GM development since Monsanto’s MON 810 maize was approved in 1998.

BASF executive director Stefan Marcinowski said: “We hope that this decision is a milestone for further innovative products that will promote a competitive and sustainable agriculture in Europe.”

Commercial cultivation of Amflora is expected to begin this year. The potato is expected to be grown in the Czech Republic and Germany this spring, with cultivations in Sweden and the Netherlands in following years.

Julian Little, chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, which represents GM plant breeders, said the decision would hopefully end the EU’s long hiatus on approving new GM varieties – including those for human consumption.

“We are hopeful today’s decision represents a turning point in the EU towards a more rigorous focus on science and a recognition of the benefits these technologies can bring to European farmers and the environment.

“If we are serious about allowing UK farmers to produce high quality, affordable food for consumers while safeguarding our natural resources, they must be given the freedom to choose modern, efficient farming methods based on tried and tested science, including the use of GM crops.”

Farm leaders said British growers were unlikely to benefit directly from Amflora, because starch processing remains primarily a continental European activity. But its approval still had big implications.

NFU Scotland policy director Scott Walker said: “The approval of a GM starch potato variety for cultivation in Europe will have little or no impact in Scotland but may mark a break in the log jam around such approvals in the future.”

But anti-GM campaigners condemned the decision. Heike Moldenhauer, spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said: “The commissioner has ignored public opinion and safety concerns. This is a bad day for European citizens and the environment.”

• Find out more about Brazil’s view on GM crops by watching videos from FW’s Business Editor Ian Ashbridge who spent a week in the country, click here.

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