TB-spread fears follow European GM potato rulingMarch 4th, 2010 - 4:12 pm ICT by IANS
London, March 4 (IANS) A ruling by the European Union to allow the production of genetically-modified potatoes in member-states has sparked claims the vegetables may lead to the spread of a deadly form of tuberculosis.
The European Commission Tuesday gave the green signal for the production of GM Amflora potatoes in the first approval for a GM crop to be grown on a commercial scale in Europe for 12 years.
Although the European Union’s 27 member-states are free not to grow the crop, environmental campaigners denounced the approval, saying it could lead the spread of multi-disease resistant TB (MDR-TB) - a major global health concern.
The GM Amflora potato was developed by the German chemicals giant BASF in order to produce more starch for industrial uses such as paper manufacturing, but not food.
It is expected to be grown mostly in Germany, but other countries such as the Czech Republic and Sweden could follow in Germany’s footsteps, some reports said.
However, Heike Moldenhauer, a spokeswoman for the Friends of the Earth campaigning group, said the potato carried a controversial antibiotic-resistant gene that could cause problems if livestock are fed the industrial pulp from the potatoes.
Once the starch has been removed for industrial purposes, the potato skins could be fed to animals, whose meat would not have to be labelled as GM, and could thus enter the food chain in Europe, campaigners fear.
The European Medical Authority (EMA), the agency that evaluates medicinal products in the continent, said Amflora contains a gene that produces an enzyme which generally confers resistance to several antibiotics, including kanamycin, neomycin, butirosin, and gentamicin.
These antibiotics could become “extremely important” in the treatment MDR TB, a virulent form of a disease that kills 1,000 people in India every day and infects eight million worldwide every year.
“In the absence of an effective therapy, infectious Multiple Drug Resistant TB patients will continue to spread the disease, producing new infections with MDR-TB strains,” an EMA spokesman was quoted saying in The Independent newspaper Thursday.
“Until we introduce a new drug with demonstrated activity against MDR strains, this aspect of the TB epidemic could explode at an exponential level.”
But John Dalli, the EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner and the man who gave the approval, said the decision was “based on a considerable volume of sound science”.
“The fusion of any antimicrobial resistance is so remote that the assessment is that there is no danger at all to human life,” he said.
Genetically modified crops are unpopular among Europeans - before the Amflora approval, the only other GM crop authorised for commercial production in Europe after 1998 was a strain of maize made by the food multinational Monsanto.
GM crops can be grown for scientific trials.
Martin Hausling, a member of the European Parliament from the German Green party said the EU decision “flies in the face of the 70 percent of consumers who are against GM food”.
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Tags: amflora, basf, campaigners, effective therapy, food chain, friends of the earth, gentamicin, global health, gm crop, gm potato, health concern, industrial purposes, london march, medical authority, neomycin, paper manufacturing, potato skins, resistant tb, spread fears, starch