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Amid Controversy, Europe Approves the Growth of Genetically Modified Potatoes

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By Sara Novak, TreeHugger

March 10, 2010

After a 13-year battle, the largest chemical company in the world, BASF won approval from the European Commission to begin commercially growing a genetically modified potato for industrial use. Many onlookers were more than a little surprised by the decision considering the Commission's formerly skeptical approach to GMOs. The decision has incited fury amongst harsh critics which included Italy and Austria who fear a health disaster.

A decision by the European Commission to allow the commercial growing of Amflora, a genetically modified starchy potato, is causing deep seated anger from a part of the world traditionally whole heartedly opposed to GMOs. The potatoes will be grown in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. Amflora is currently only approved for starch production, not human consumption, but the leftover skins will be fed to cattle. It will used for industrial purposes like paper and yarn production and making spray concrete. Currently, Europe has the strictest labeling policies in the world with regards to identifying genetically modified foods, compared to the US, which has little to no GMO labeling.

General fear of the potato's growth stems from a gene contained in the potato that is resistant to antibiotics including kanamycin, neomycin, butirosin, and gentamicin. According to a story in the Independent, critics fear that this could further the problems associated with antibiotic resistance.

   "The[se] antibiotics could become "extremely important" to treat otherwise multi-resistant infections and tuberculosis, the European Medicines Authority (EMA) warned. Drug resistance is part of the explanation for the resurgence of TB, which infects eight million people worldwide every year."

While the tubers would be removed from the ground after cultivation so that their chemicals can not escape into the ground or contaminate other varieties of potatoes, opponents fears that the remnants of the cow's feces could cause environmental damage in the same way.

Friends of the Earth's Heike Moldenhauer said: "The commissioner whose job is to protect consumers has, in one of his first decisions, ignored public opinion and safety concerns to please the world's biggest chemical company."

Sara Novak is a writer specializing in food, travel, and nature for Planet Green and TreeHugger.

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