European Union gave its first approval for the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) potato developed exclusively for use by starch industry for non-food applications. Though the decision was not unanimous, there appears to be substantial support amongst the member countries for clearing GM crops many of them in the pipe line seeking such approval. Taking a cautious step, GM potato has been given a conditional clearance but the waste products generated from the starch industry using this raw material can be fed to animals.
"Amflora produces pure amylopectin starch used in certain technical applications. Food use is not foreseen. It was developed in collaboration with experts from the European starch industry to respond to the demand for pure amylopectin starch. Conventional potatoes produce a mixture of amylopectin and amylose starch. For many technical applications, such as in the paper, textile and adhesives industries, pure amylopectin is advantageous, but separating the two starch components is uneconomical. The industry will benefit from high-quality Amflora starch that optimizes industrial processes: it gives paper a higher gloss, and concrete and adhesives can be processed for a longer period of time. This reduces the consumption of energy, additives and raw materials such as water".
According to those who oppose GM potato, Amflora carries an extra gene that can make the potato resistant to the antibiotics neomycin and kanamycin. This has been refuted by the developers though only time will tell whether this is true. GM plants are produced by inserting novel genes into individual plant cells and then growing the cells into whole plants in the laboratory. Gene insertion can be achieved by using a bacterium to "ferry" it into the cell or by blasting it in using a gene gun. Alternatively, the tough plant cell wall can be stripped off and the gene can be inserted into this "naked" cell. Regardless of the technique used, not all of the plant cells will take up the novel gene and incorporate it into their own DNA, the probability being about five cells out of every thousand succeeding. Tagging the novel gene with an antibiotic resistance gene allows modified cells to be singled out, because they will be resistant to a specific range of antibiotics. It is quite possible that EU must have taken the decision to approve this crop for cultivation after weighing the risk involved in such a major policy reversal. It is another matter that more than 70% of the population in EU oppose GM foods!