It's not often that governments stop GM crops, but it happens - this time it's the South Africa government that rejected the Agriculture Research Council's (ARC's) application to provide Bt potatoes to local farmers, saying it was concerned about its safety and economic effect.

[img_assist|nid=108|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=43]South Africa’s Agriculture and Research Council (ARC) has announced their intention to apply to the SA government for permission to make GM potatoes commercially available, The potato in question is a Bt potato carrying the antibiotic resistance gene nptII as a marker - the same antibiotic resistance gene that currently holds up the approval procedure of BASF's starch potato Amflora in Europe.

[img_assist|nid=108|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=150|height=65]The good news is that yesterday, the EU Agricultural Minister meeting failed to give approval for the cultivation of BASF's GM starch potato Amflora. 10 years along the line of the de-facto moratorium against GM crops and still there is no new approval given for cultivation. The bad news is that once again, there was no qualified majority to reject it and the decision now lies with the EU Commission who is likely to approve of it.

Just two weeks ago, the EU environmental ministers postponed their decision on the cultivation of BASF's GM starch potato Amflora. Instead the decision has now been put on the agenda of the agricultural ministers this coming Monday. It appears that the EU Commission is determined to get this GM potato approved, and also to get the first cultivation approval since 1998 and the moratorium.

[img_assist|nid=108|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=150|height=65]The application for Amflora went unnoticed for some time, and as usual the EFSA gave a positive opinion even though Amflora contains the antibiotic resistance gene nptII against kanamycin, neomycin and a number of other antibiotic. In December 2006, the Standing Committee did not get a qualified majority in favour or against it, and the application was passed on to the environmental ministers.
However before it came to that, the possibility that the antibiotic resistance trait could be spread to soil bacteria raised concerns within the EU authorities, and DG Environment blocked the further authorisation until EMEA, the European Medicines Agency, would give an opinion on the use of this antibiotic resistance gene.

The WHO has listed kanamycin as an reserve antibiotic against multiple-resistant tuberculosis. The EMEA came to the that the antibiotics against which the nptII gene provides resistance are much more often used than the EFSA assumed.
But while EFSA acknowledges that horizontal gene transfer can occur, but it simply keeps on stating that it wouldn't happen often enough to be a problem, and that there already are soil bacteria resistant to these antibiotics. So Amflora was back on the agenda of the environmental ministers at the end of June, who in turn decided to postpone a decision until they would have more information.

[img_assist|nid=6|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=150|height=65]BASF's GM potato Amflora is now referred to the European Medicines Agency because according to WHO information the antibiotic resistance relates to a group of antibiotics that are much more widely used then assumed by the EFSA.

from Agrarfacts, 21 February 2007:

"GM Potato authorisation referred to European Medicines Agency

[img_assist|nid=108|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=100|height=43]BASF applied for approval for the cultivation of the GM starch potato Amflora, as well as for its use as food and feed. Even though the application does not include any sufficient information to evaluate its environmental and food/feed safety, the EFSA gave a positive opinion.

Approval for BASF's starch potato Amflora (EH92-527-1) is sought under Directive 2001/18 for cultivation only, but an additional application has been filed under Regulation 1829/2003 for approval as food and feed.1

Edited version of comments submitted to EFSA's 'Open consultation on Starch potato EH92-527-1', December 2006.

[img_assist|nid=172|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=43]Scientists in the UK put 16 lines of three different GM potatoes under a range of stress situations and then studied the quantities of two main groups of secondary, toxic metabolites. They found significant differences. An argument why it is necessary to study GM crops under realistic conditions.