£750K of taxpayers' money has been spent to develop a GM blight-resistant potato - even though non-GM naturally blight-resistant potatoes are already available to growers.

Dr Jonathan Jones and the Sainsbury Laboratory were given over £750K of taxpayers' money to take a gene from the naturally blight-resistant Sarpo Mira potato and use it to make a GM potato designed for blight resistance.

It's an act that is perfectly legal, though some may view it as biopiracy. The genes in non-GM plants cannot be patent-protected. Dr David Shaw of the Sarvari Research Trust, which developed the Sarpo Mira and similar blight-resistant potatoes, confirmed to GMWatch that the Trust has received no remuneration for Jones's use of the gene from the Sarpo Mira potato.

Dr Shaw said: "Once listed and marketed, our varieties can be used by anyone for producing a new variety.  I do know that many potato breeders are using our varieties as parents in crosses and we cannot charge for that."

The GM potato has been tested in field trials and is touted as reducing agrochemicals – an irony that will not be lost on the Sarvari Trust, which is well aware that its Sarpo potatoes do not need spraying.

The £750K swallowed by the GM potato project was given to Jones and Sainsbury Lab by the BBSRC, the UK's public funding body for science. The BBSRC no longer publishes the biographies or declarations of interests of its board members, though historically these have included many people affiliated with the GM industry.

In previous work a team of scientists at Wageningen University and the Sainsbury Lab isolated a pyramid of five different genes from the Sarpo Mira potato, which "confer both qualitative and quantitative resistance to late blight".

Jones' project and the Wageningen/Sainsbury work show that a GM blight-resistant potato is simply not needed because the non-GM potatoes from which the genes were taken are already blight-resistant. The Sarvari Trust potatoes' blight resistance has proved stable over many years and shows no sign of breaking down.

Growers can already buy "Sarpo Collection" potato tubers from Thompson & Morgan.

So why are Jones and other GM pushers trying to develop a GM blight-resistant potato when perfectly good non-GM ones are already available?

There's only one explanation: GM potatoes can be patented. If and when this happens with the GM potato developed by Jones and the Sainsbury Lab, the hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money poured into the project will vanish into GM industry coffers.

Help the Sarvari Trust

We hear there's a lively and growing market for non-GM blight-resistant Sarpo potatoes in Ireland. But unlike Jones and the Sainsbury Lab, the Sarvari Trust is struggling for funds to survive.

Join the “crowd” of supporters and researchers who help the Sarvari Trust with their work:

Listen to interview on Radio Dublin:                     

Watch the video from Garden Organic’s Potato Day:              

See SPUDS Ireland with Kaethe Burt O’Dea:                  

Read Sunday Telegraph on taste of Sarpo varieties:

Twitter @SarpoUK