BASF announces second UK trial site (28/2/2007)

1.BASF announces second UK trial site
2.GM Spuds
Industry Can't Agree on Blight Costs

1.BASF announces second UK trial site

BASF has announced the second UK trial site for its GM blight resistant potatoes. It has applied for permission to plant in Hedon, East Riding of Yorkshire (grid ref TA1729).

See Defra press release and links

There will be another public consultation deadline 20 April.

An invitation to make public representations will be posted on the Defra website at www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/regulation/applications/index.htm

East Riding passed a GM free resolution in 2003 so may not be best pleased!

Useful GM Freeze briefing on this GM potato: http://www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/GM_Spudsoverview_webbriefing.pdf


2.GM Spuds Industry Can't Agree on Blight Costs
GM FREEZE, PRESS RELEASE Immediate release 28th February 2007

BASF, the company wanting to field test GM potatoes in Cambridgeshire and Humberside [1] over the next five years, and the British Potato Council (BPC) cannot agree about the annual costs of blight damage in UK potatoes.

BASF want to test GM potatoes engineered to resist blight. They claim [2] that the annual losses due to blight amount to £50 million per year with GBP20 million needed to pay for fungicides. In contrast, BPC [3] put the cost of damage due to blight at GBP3 million. They agree with BASF on the costs of fungicide spray.

GM Freeze has assessed the claims made about the losses due to blight by BASF. Based on BPC's average price [5] of GBP135 per tonne, a GBP50 million loss would equate to 370,000 tonnes of potatoes or 6.2% of total production of 6m tonnes annually (BPC figures). Using BPCs figures, the losses would be just 22,250 tonnes per year or 0.4% of the total crop.

Blight is a serious fungal disease of potatoes. In recent years considerable progress has been made in predicting the occurrence of blight and in developing varieties which are naturally resistant to the disease. At present 20% of the most popular commercial varieties offer good resistance to the disease and potato breeding lines introduced from Hungary are producing highly resistant strains [4].

The BPC Flight Against Blight (FAB) campaign monitors the blight population regularly to check for new strains of the fungus which in the past few decades has developed the capacity to reproduce sexually as well as asexually. The latest BPC finding "indicates that strains are not successfully mating in Britain and producing oospores which could otherwise lead to difficulties controlling the disease" [5]. However, they call upon growers "to stay alert for signs of blight and control sources of infection such as outgrade piles and volunteers" and to sign up to FAB and BPC's Blight Watch which monitors the disease around the country.

Defra issued a consent to BASF in December 2007 to release the GM potatoes in Derbyshire and Cambridgeshire. In an unusual step, the consent was personally signed by Secretary of State David Miliband instead of senior civil servants. The Derbyshire site was withdrawn two weeks later and this week BASF informed Defra of a replacement site at Hedon in Humberside. The trials will last 5 years.

Commenting of the lack of agreement between BASF and the BPC Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

"BASF clearly have a vested interested in exaggerating the costs of potato blight losses they want to sell the idea of GM potatoes to farmers and politicians. BPC don't have to inflate the costs of damage. We'll leave it to readers to decide who is likely to be more accurate. Mr Miliband has firmly nailed his colours to the GM mast by personally endorsing these GM trials. Let's hope he has not been taken in by BASF's hype and that gets he gets better advice if he ever has to make decision on whether these GM potatoes can be grown commercially. GM won't solve the blight problem because the disease can evolve into new strains. What is needed is an integrated approach of conventionally breeding resistant varieties, close monitoring and very strict hygiene to minimise the use of fungicides".


Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341065 or 01226 790713


1. BASF press release 27th February. See also http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/regulation/applications/index.htm

2. As above.

3. British Potato Council Growers Advice Fight Against Blight http://www.potato.org.uk/media_files/FAB_GAs/01outgradehygiene2005.pdf

4. Sarpo varieties are being developed by the Sartavi Research Trust. See for http://www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/GM_Spudsoverview_webbriefing.pdf

for more information.

5. BPC press release February 2007 http://www.potato.org.uk/department/knowledge_transfer/press_releases/index.html?did=2085&pg=1



In August 2006, German chemicals company BASF applied to start GM potato field trials in Cambridge and Derbyshire as early as next spring. The GM industry is making many claims about this product, but are these based on the truth? Andy Rees investigates

THE ECOLOGIST Date:22/09/2006

Author:Andy Rees


Late blight (Phytophthora infestans) costs UK farmers around GBP50m each year, even with regular application of fungicides. BASF claims that its GM potato would reduce fungicide spraying from around 15 times a year to just two.

This sounds impressive, until you realise that just 1,300 of the 12,000 tonnes of agrochemicals used on UK potatoes are fungicides meaning that, at most, pesticide usage would be reduced by only 10 per cent.

As far as actually reducing pesticide usage is concerned, Robert Vint of Genetix Food Alert observes that "such claims ... usually [soon] prove to be extreme exaggerations".

The biotech industry has a long track record of first exaggerating a problem, then offering an unproven and oversold GM solution. A classic example of this was Monsanto's showcase project in Africa, the GM sweet potato. It was claimed that the GM potato would be virus resistant, that it would increase yields from four to 10 tonnes per hectare, and that it would lift the poor of Africa out of poverty. However, this crop not only wasn’t virus-resistant, but yielded much less than its non-GM counterpart. Moreover, the virus it targeted was not a major factor affecting yield in Africa. The claims were made without any peer reviewed data to back them up. And the assertion that yields would increase from four to 10 tonnes per hectare relied upon a lie according to FAO statistics, non-GM potatoes typically yield not four but 10 tonnes. Furthermore, a poorly resourced Ugandan virus-resistant sweet potato, that really was roughly doubling yields, was studiously ignored by the biotech lobby.

Also conveniently overlooked are any

non-GM solutions to blight. Many conventional potato varieties are naturally blight-resistant, some of which the organic sector are currently trialling. Another non-GM control, used by organic farmers against late blight in potatoes, is the use of copper sprays in low doses. This is applied to the foliage of the plant and does not contaminate the tuber.


An article in The Guardian, which reads more like a BASF press release (the corporate takeover of the media is a subject covered in my forthcoming book), reports that "Andy Beadle, an expert in fungal resistance at BASF, said the risks of contamination from GM crops are minimal because potatoes reproduce through the production of tubers, unlike other crops such as oil seed rape [canola], which produces pollen that can be carried for miles on the wind."

Not only is this remark economical with the facts, it seems a little brazen given the biotech industry’s rather prolific history on contamination issues, which has resulted in at least 105 contamination incidents (some of them major), over 10 years, and in as many as 39 countries.

Amongst many other things, Mr Beadle

forgot to mention that there is less direct risk of contamination by cross-pollination, not no risk.

Furthermore, cross-pollination is much higher when the GM and non-GM potato varieties are different; one study showed that, even at plot-scale, 31 per cent of plants had become hybrids as far as 1km from a GM variety. Crosspollination also increases greatly when the chief pollinator is the ‘very common’ pollen beetle, which travels considerably further than another potato pollinator, the bumble bee. Years later, cross-pollination is still possible through potato volunteers (plants from a previous year’s dropped tubers or seed); Defra itself has acknowledged this problem. And similarly, ‘relic’ plants can persist in fields or waste ground. What is more, blight-resistant varieties create a far greater risk of GM contamination because the flowering tops are more likely to be left on than with non-blightresistant varieties. This is because tops are usually removed from non-blight-resistant varieties to reduce disease incidence. Also, a number of modern strains can produce considerable numbers of berries, each producing 400 seeds; these can lay dormant for seven years, before becoming mature tuber-producing plants.

And if all that isn’t enough to suggest

that ‘minimal’ contamination is the figment of the corporate imagination, then it is well worth checking out the March 2006 GM Contamination Register, set up by Greenpeace and GeneWatch UK, and available at www.

gmcontaminationregister.org. This includes some of the worst contamination incidents to date, including the following three.

In October 2000, in the US, GM StarLink

corn, approved only as animal feed, ended up in taco shells and other food products. It led to a massive recall of more than 300 food brands and cost Aventis an immense $1 billion to clear up. StarLink corn was just one per cent of the total crop, but it tainted 50 per cent of the harvest. In March 2005, Syngenta admitted that it had accidentally produced and disseminated – between 2001 and 2004 – ‘several hundred tonnes’ of an unapproved corn called Bt10 and sold the seed as approved corn, Bt11. In the US, 150,000 tonnes of Bt10 were harvested and went into the food chain. And in April 2005, unauthorised GM Bt rice was discovered to have been sold and grown unlawfully for the past two years in the Chinese province of Hubei. An estimated 950 to 1200 tons of the rice entered the food chain after the 2004 harvest, with the risk of up to 13,500 tons entering the food chain in 2005. The rice may also have contaminated China’s rice exports. And now, in 2006, BASF’s application comes amidst the latest biotech scandal, that of US rice contamination by an unauthorised, experimental GM strain, Bayer’s LLRice 601.


The GM lobby have proposed a buffer zone of 2-5m of fallow land around the GM potato crop, together with a 20m separation with non-GM potato crops.

The National Pollen Research Unit (NPRU), on the other hand, has recommended separation distances of 500m. Interestingly, pro-industry sources have always claimed that only very small separation distances are necessary, with buffer zones for rape set at a derisory 200m in the UK crop trials. Judith Jordan (later Rylott) of AgrEvo (now Bayer) gave evidence under oath that the chances of cross-pollination beyond 50m were as likely as getting pregnant from a lavatory seat.

Well, you have been warned. But oilseed rape pollen has been found to travel 26km, maize pollen 5km, and GM grass pollen 21km.

Meanwhile, good ol’ Defra is once again

paving the way for the biotech industry, with its so-called ‘co-existence’ paper of August 2006.

This will determine the rules for commercial GM crop growing in England yet astonishingly, it proposes no separation distances. GM contamination prevention measures will be left in the slippery hands of the GM industry in the form of a voluntary code of practice.



The biotech industry has from the very beginning assured us that their products are entirely safe.

This is because, they claim, they are so similar to conventional crops as to be ‘Substantially Equivalent’, a discredited concept that led to GM crop approval in the US (and thence the EU).

The truth is that, as far as human health goes, the biotech industry cannot know that their products are safe, because there has only been one published human health study the Newcastle Study, which was published in 2004.

And although this research project was very limited in scope, studying the effects of just one GM meal taken by seven individuals, it nonetheless found GM DNA transferring to gut bacteria in the human subjects.

As for tests of the effects of GM crops on animals, there are only around 20 published studies that look at the health effects of GM food (not hundreds, as claimed by the biotech lobby), as well as some unpublished ones. The findings of many of these are quite alarming.

The unpublished study on the FlavrSavr tomato fed to rats, resulted in lesions and gastritis in these animals. Monsanto’s unpublished 90-day study of rats fed MON863 maize resulted in smaller kidney sizes and a raised white blood cell count. And when it comes to GM potatoes, Dr Ewen and Dr Pusztai’s 1999 10-day study on male rats fed GM potatoes, published in the highly respected medical journal The Lancet, showed that feeding GM potatoes to rats led to many abnormalities, including:

gut lesions; damaged immune systems; less developed brains, livers, and testicles; enlarged tissues, including the pancreas and intestines; a proliferation of cells in the stomach and intestines, which may have signalled an increased potential for cancer; and the partial atrophy of the liver in some animals. And this is in an animal that is virtually indestructible.


The proposed UK trials would follow those being carried out in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. Barry Stickings of BASF explains:

"We need to conduct these [in the UK] to see how the crop grows in different conditions. I hope that society, including the NGOs, realise that all we are doing is increasing choice."

So, how much choice has GM crops given farmers? Well, in Canada, within a few years, the organic canola industry was pretty much wiped out by GM contamination. And in the US, a 2004 study showed that, after just eight years of commercial growing, at least 50 per cent of conventional maize and soy and 83 per cent of conventional canola were GM-contaminated again dooming non-GM agriculture.


Regarding BASF’s application to trial GM potatoes, the Financial Times reported that "Barry Stickings of BASF said he did not expect too much opposition to the application". What had clearly slipped Stickings’ mind was that BASF had already faced protests with this product in Sweden, where it is in its second year of production.

In Ireland, where one may have expected more enthusiasm for the project, given the history of blight during the 1840s famine, BASF was given the go-ahead earlier this year for trials of its GM blight-resistant potato, only to face stiff public resistance and rigorous conditions enforced by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency. BASF later discontinued the trials.

In the UK and Europe, as Friends of the Earth points out: "Consumers ... have made it clear that they do not want ... GM food." In fact, the British Retail Consortium, which represents British supermarkets, has already stated that they ‘won’t be stocking GM potatoes for the conceivable future’ because ‘people remain suspicious of GM.’ My forthcoming book goes into the rejection of GM crops in more depth.

And even more surprisingly, in the US, where 55 per cent of the world’s GM crops are grown, GM potatoes were taken off the market back in 2000 when McDonald’s, Burger King, McCain’s and Pringles all refused to use them, for fear of losing customers.

So, having reviewed the claims made about BASF’s GM potatoes, and having found them, well, somewhat lacking, there is only one course of action open to the government, and that is, as Friends of the Earth’s GM Campaigner Liz Wright recently said, to "...reject this application and prevent any GM crops from being grown in the UK until it can guarantee that they won’t contaminate our food, farming and environment."

Genetically Modified Food A Short Guide For The Confused by Andy Rees (Pluto Press,

GBP12.99) will be published on October 20.

Ecologist readers can purchase copies of the book for only GBP10 by calling 01264 342932 or emailing your order to [email protected] and quoting PLUREES1.

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