GM potatoes: not a good use of taxpayers’ money

17 Aug

As reports of trial funded by the rather unwilling taxpayer via the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council quote GM potato scientists, acclaiming the results of research into GM blight resistant potatoes, other experts say it is too early to assess the impact on yields.

Some organisations advocate building on the work of those raising the six non-GM blight resistant Sárpo varieties and three Bioselect, which are said to have given a consistent levels of protection against several blight strains, not demonstrated by the GM variety.

Blight strains change, and conventionally resistant strains can defend themselves well as they have more than one mode of resistance, whereas the GM variety with only one inserted gene will be defenceless when a blight strain evolves.

However, despite the problem of consumer aversion, agroindustrial globalisation is the currently preferred corporate-political path

Agricultural Biotechnology Council chairman Dr Julian Little [opposite: experience in Rhone-Poulenc, Aventis and Bayer CropScience] said:

“British agricultural science . . . is a key tool to help our farmers compete in the global agricultural market”.

Not in this case: the patent belongs to a Dutch researcher  . . .

Compare the GM products with non-subsidised non-GM blight-resistant varieties from Hungarian stock. The Sárpo potatoes have many advantages, described by accomplished horticulturist Alys Fowler,  and an excellent flavour – demonstrated at a chef’s presentation of cooked Sárpo Mira, Sárpo Axona, Sárpo Una and Blue Danube potatoes in London. They are described by the Sárvári Research Trust, a not-for-profit company based near Bangor in North Wales, as hardy, with a low carbon-footprint and resistant to common viruses.

A review by Dr Eva Novotny, first published in Scientists for Global Responsibility’s 2010 Winter newsletter adds:

“They can be grown in poor soils and stored without refrigeration. Some varieties even enjoy drought resistance. These potatoes are receiving glowing  reports from Ireland, with Wales and Scotland also showing growing  interest. They are popular in box schemes and farmers’ markets.”

A more substantial article by Dr Novotny was published on the Institute of Science in Society‘s website and a fully referenced version of this paper is posted on ISIS members website and can be downloaded here, for a fee by non-members.

UK seed companies and small research foundations which will develop and assess non-GM varieties at a fraction of the cost and are well worth the encouragement of a responsible British research funding body.


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