Statement from Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Europe
“In his new role as EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner, John Dalli has chosen to ignore public and scientific opinion and approve the first genetically-modified potato to be cultivated in the European Union.
“It has been 12 years since the European Commission has approved any cultivation of genetically modified (GM) products on EU soil, yet it has taken John Dalli only a few weeks to declare that ‘no new scientific issues merited further assessment.’”
“The Amflora potato is created by the German chemical company BASF. Amflora has a high content in starch and was developed for use in industrial processes, animal feed and fertilizers. However, conventional potatoes with almost identical high starch content but without antibiotic resistance genes are also available on the market. Furthermore, products from the animals fed the GM potato pulp will not require labelling under EU traceability and labelling laws.
“The European Commission decision is a contradiction in itself, as it was based on a favorable opinion from the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) regarding the use of antibiotic resistant marker (ARM) genes. This technology has been challenged by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), who, together with the World Health Organization, have warned about the “critical importance” of the antibiotics affected by the Amflora potato. Releasing BASF’s GM potato into the environment could raise bacterial resistance to life-saving medicines, including drugs used for the treatment of illnesses as devastating and potentially widespread as tuberculosis. An EU law was adopted in 2001 requiring that antibiotic resistance genes that could pose a threat to human health and the environment be phased out by the end of 2004. BASF applied for authorization for the use of this GM crop as food and feed in 2005.
“It is also of interest that Sweden was the country that undertook the safety assessment of the GM potato, since Sweden is one of the four countries (alongside Germany, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands) where BASF plans on cultivating 250 hectares of Amflora by the end of the year.
“This is a shocking move by the new commissioner, who has decided to please the world’s biggest chemical company BASF – a company that collaborates with U.S. based Monsanto on GMOs. The commission is blatantly ignoring what 70 percent of EU citizens want, as well as scientific opinion and EU policy. This move is a slap in the face to those organizations that supported the recent transfer of “pharmaceuticals, medicines and biotechnology” from the dossier of Industry and Enterprise to that of Health and Consumer Policy.
“Pro-GM European Commission President Barroso knew exactly what he was doing when he appointed the ex-industry accountant and private financier John Dalli to the job. While Barroso was being applauded for finally moving the EU’s pharmaceutical package (previously under DG Industry) into DG SANCO’s authority, he also moved biotechnology (previously under DG Environment) under the same authority, thereby making Commissioner John Dalli the main and only obstacle for pro-GM lobbyists in the EU.
“Since the two opposing safety assessment bodies on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – EFSA and EMA – are now placed under the same Commissioner, does the impact of their opinion hold the same validity?
“In the Barroso Commission’s proposal – a 2020 economic roadmap for Europe, it was clear that consumer opinion will take a backseat to anything labeled “innovation” or “technology.” The new decision on GM potatos makes it likely that conventional potatoes with the same high starch content as the Amflora (but without antibiotic resistant genes), will be looked down upon as “backward”. Biotech companies insist that these new innovations have much to offer Europeans, yet they have been unable to show what exactly these heralded benefits are. GM products are unnecessary when there are conventional, non-GM alternatives. It is time to realize that unnecessary risks are being taken at the expense of consumers so that BASF can make 20-30 million euros per annum on license fees for Amflora.
Food & Water Europe is the program of Food & Water Watch, (a non-profit consumer NGO based in Washington, DC), working to ensure clean water and safe food in Europe and around the world. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.
Gabriella Zanzanaini, Food & Water Europe, Brussels