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BASF Pulls the Plug on New GM Crop Development in the EU

BASF Pulls the Plug on New GM Crop Development in the EU
GM Freeze, 11 July 2011
http://www.gmfreeze.org/news-releases/161/ 

BASF Plant Sciences have decided not to develop GM crops for the European market. 

Recent correspondence with the company said they, "[D]ecided some time ago to not initiate any new projects that are focused exclusively on the European market."

GM Freeze says this shows financial decisions are finally catching up with market realities. 

BASF's position was sent in an email on 7 July 2011 by a BASF Plant Science Communications Manager. [1]

The chemical and biotech giant's recent GM development work for Europe has focussed on potatoes, including the controversial Amflora, a GM potato for industrial starch production that gained EU commercial approval in 2010 despite the presence on an antibiotic resistance marker gene (ARM). ARMs that have an "adverse effects on human health and the environment" are banned in the EU (Directive 2011/18 Article 4.3).

Experts are concerned that ARMs could transfer resistance to antibiotics into harmful bacteria, adding to medical problems associated with decreased effectiveness of medicines due to increased antibiotic resistance. Several EU countries have banned Amflora, taking the view that the ARM in it is potentially harmful. The Hungarian Government is taking legal action against the European Commission for granting Amflora approval.

BASF's 2010 application for a second GM starch altered potato (Amadea, BPS-A1020-5) is in the early stages of the EU regulatory process. Amadea was responsible for the 2010 contamination of the first commercial plantings of Amflora, which lead to the crop being destroyed and the subsequent collapse of Amflora plantings from 450 hectares in 2010 (in Sweden German and the Czech Republic) to 17 hectares in 2011 (two in Germany and 15 in Sweden). [2]  

BASF also conducted trials for GM blight resistant potatoes at the National Institute for Agricultural Botany (NIAB) near Cambridge in 2007 and 2008. In January 2009 they informed Defra it did not wish to continue the trials into 2009 because, "[T]echnically we do not need further information from the UK. Since the lack of progress regarding GM plants in Europe, and in view of the cost to conduct field trials against the background of the current economic situation, BASF had to decide to reduce the number of field trial sites." [3]

Non-GM potatoes for altered starch [4], blight resistance [5] are already on the market, and non-GM techniques like Marker Assisted Selection (eg, MAS) are delivering successful varieties, which makes GM varieties both slower and riskier to commercialise given widespread market rejection of the technology and fears of contamination of the food chain. Last week scientists announced completion of sequencing the potato genome, which makes it easier to use MAS in potato breeding. [6] 

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

"BASF's decision not to develop further GM crops for the EU is another sign that the biotech industry, and its shareholders, are finally recognising that huge investments in crops no one wants to buy is simply not good business. The fact that traditional plant breeding has already delivered solutions using non-GM approaches in potatoes makes their investment in GM all the more ill-judged as was political support for it. 

"Maybe it would have been wiser if BASF had followed a non-GM path rather than stubbornly pursuing GM. If they had had, they might well be leading the way now instead of floundering in the wake of smaller and more innovative organisations introducing effective new varieties without the risks inherent in GM technology."


Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065

Notes

[1] Email dated 7 July 2011 from Britta Stellbrink, Communications Manager BASF Plant Science, to a member of the public. (available on request)

[2] See "BASF blames human error for GM crop contamination in Sweden" and "BASF Cultivation Of Amflora Potatoes To Be Lower In 2011" 

[3] Letter from BASF to Hilary Benn, 27 January 2009, obtained by GM Freeze under the Environmental Information Regulations.

[4] See Emsland Group Press Release “Processing of amylopectin potatoes in Kyritz and Cloppenburg”

[5] The Sarvari Research Trust has developed 6 red, white and purple potato varieties with proven blight resistance available to gardeners and farmers. See www.sarvari-trust.org/nationally-listed.html 

[6] An international team of researchers announced they had sequenced the potato genome on 9 July 2011. See Potato Genome Sequencing Consortium “Genome sequence and analysis of the tuber crop potato”