BASF applies for UK GM field trials (22/8/2006)

COMMENT: At the moment there are no GM field trials taking place anywhere in the UK. But the German chemicals giant BASF wants to change that.

According to this article, "Barry Stickings of BASF said he did not expect too much opposition to the application".

What planet's he on?

The article fails to mention that BASF already tried to pull the same trick in Ireland, where it was met by a storm of protest and ended up pulling out. (see 'BASF admits defeat of GMO potato experiment')


BASF requests trial of GM potatoes
By Lisa Urquhart
Financial Times, 22 August 2006

UK field trials of genetically modified potatoes could begin as early as April, a move that is bound to spark controversy among environmental groups.

German chemicals group BASF will on Wednesday announce that it has applied to the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs to conduct what will be the first wide-scale field trials of GM potatoes.

If the government gives it approval, two trials of one hectare each in Cambridgeshire and Derbyshire will mark the first production of GM foods in more than three years in the UK, following cultivation of oilseed rape in 2003.

BASF is proposing to grow potatoes that have been genetically modified to give them resistance to late blight, a fungal disease. The potatoes will contain a natural trait, resistant to the blight, found in wild potatoes. Late blight was responsible for the devastating potato famine in Ireland that was thought to have caused the death of up to 1m people and sparked the mass migration of Irish citizens across the globe.

Barry Stickings of BASF said he did not expect too much opposition to the application because the group would follow both UK and European regulations. But BASF has faced protests in Sweden, where crop production is in its second year.

Mr Stickings added that it would be at least seven to eight years before people could consume GM potatoes produced by the group.

Late blight is thought to result in the loss of 5-10 per cent of the UK potato crop and worldwide it is estimated the disease costs producers GBP2bn annually. In the UK up to £20m a year is spent on fungicides to protect crops.

Andrew Beadle, project manager at BASF Plant Science, said the group was offering farmers the choice of using fungicides or using modified potatoes. "We have nothing to hide and we just hope that people accept that what we are trying to do here is to conduct a scientific experiment that will give us information to help launch new products in the future."

But BASF's application comes amid heightened sensitivity to GM crops following yesterday's decision by the European Commission to prevent US rice contaminated with an unauthorised genetically modified strain from entering Europe's food chain.

On Tuesday the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed it had received an application from BASF that would be assessed for safety and health. Defra said it would also consider representations from the public.

BASF is proposing to surround the crops with 2m-5m of fallow land and have a 20m boundary from other conventional potato crops.

If BASF is successful, planting is expected to take place in spring 2007, with harvesting in October. The trials will be repeated over four years.

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