Government rejects "super spuds"
Government rejects 'super spuds'
Business Daily, 20 October 2009
CAPE TOWN ”” The government has rejected the Agriculture Research Council's (ARC's) application to provide genetically modified potatoes to local farmers, saying it was concerned about its safety and economic effect.
The development has been welcomed by lobbyists campaigning against genetically modified crops and local food retailers worried about consumer resistance to “super-spuds”.
“This is probably the most significant victory of my career. For a pro-genetically modified government to refuse a commercial application on safety grounds is quite ground breaking,” said the African Centre for Biosafety’s director Mariam Mayet.
The centre spearheaded a campaign against the ARC’s application for commercial release of its SpuntaG2 potato, which has been engineered to kill the tuber moth, a common pest that damages crops in the field and in storage.
The potato contains a gene from a common soil bacteria called Bacillus thurengensis, which interferes with the moths’ digestive system, and effectively gives the crop a built-in pesticide.
The ARC had previously told Business Day that the crop would help to reduce pesticide use and cut input costs and would benefit the environment.
Potatoes SA, fast food outlet McDonald’s, and food retailers Pick n Pay and Fruit and Veg City have also expressed objections to the ARC’s application, saying they were concerned about consumer choice.
“Scientific evidence has not proven one way or the other at this point whether genetically modified foods are safe for human consumption. If the stock had been approved, we would at least have requested that they be adequately labelled in order to keep consumers fully informed,” Pick n Pay spokeswoman Tamra Veley said.
McDonald’s, which obtained its potatoes from McCain’s, would not use genetically modified potatoes in any of its products, said its spokesman, Maredi Mogodi.
Labelling genetically modified potatoes as such would be a problem because SA does not have a system for separating genetically modified crops from those that are not.
The executive council on genetically modified organisms rejected the ARC’s application for a permit for commercial release of the SpuntaG2 on health, environmental and economic grounds.
According to minutes of the meeting during which the decision was made, published on the Department of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries’ website, the council was particularly concerned about the potential effect of the potatoes on the formal trade, as SA did not have segregation facilities.
It also said commercial farmers were unlikely to see a reduction in input costs, as the tuber moth was not a major factor and they would still need to spray their crop against other pests.
And small-scale farmers were more concerned about the lack of water and fertiliser than they were about the tuber moth, it said.
The council also raised concerns about the ARC’s toxicity tests on animals, and the lack of data on the alteration of the potato’s allergen content by the insertion of the Bacillus thurengensis gene .
ARC researcher Gurling Bothma said the decision was “disappointing”. The ARC had lodged an appeal last month, and expected a decision by the end of the year .