(Jul 16, 2007)

EU farm ministers fail to approve GM potato

By Constant Brand
From AP

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - European Union farm ministers failed to agree Monday on whether to block the cultivation of a genetically engineered potato that environmental groups claim poses a risk to human and animal health.

The inability of the 27 EU nations to agree on how to handle the biotech potato developed by Germany's BASF AG means the decision will be left to the EU's executive commission which indicated it will grant approval.

Eleven EU nations including Italy, Austria, Greece and Poland tried to block the ''Amflora'' strain which is intended for industrial purposes rather than human consumption.

However, they did not muster enough votes to reject the application outright as Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden led a group of supporters.

Under EU rules the European Commission has the final authority to decide on clearing new biotech crops if member states reach a stalemate. The product has already passed a safety check by the EU's European Food Safety Authority.

Commission spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich said the biotech potato could not pose a health risk as it was not meant for human or animal consumption. BASF says the starch used from the potato will be used instead for paper and glue manufacture.

''This product is a potato which is exclusively used for starch production in the industrial world, it is not going out to the consumer,'' she said.

Environmental groups warned however that the genetically modified organism contains a gene that makes it resistant to antibiotics which could spread to other conventional crops planted nearby.

''The big GMO companies claim that using genetically modified potatoes in industrial processes is an environmentally-friendly option, but this is absurd considering the associated health and environmental risks,'' said Helen Holder from Friends of the Earth Europe.

Monday's deadlock was the latest showdown between EU nations for and against expanding the use of genetically modified crops in Europe.

The EU ended a six-year moratorium on accepting applications for new biotech products in May 2004, introducing strict approval procedures and labeling regulations, but several EU nations remain reluctant to authorize biotech crops because of public health and environmental concerns.

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