GeneWatch UK PR: GM potato research a waste of money

Monday 17th February 2014

GM potato research a waste of money

GeneWatch UK today criticised Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for wasting public money on genetically modified (GM) potato research. BBSRC-funded research by the John Innes Centre (JIC) on a GM blight-resistant potato is published today (1). The BBSRC has spent £3.2 million on the research to date (2) but considerably more research will be needed to create a commercial product because more genetic modification is needed to resist other strains of blight.

"Taxpayers' money is being wasted on yet more GM research that is a very long way from delivering what farmers really need" said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK "There are blight-resistant non-GM potatoes already on the market. Why waste money, take unnecessary risks, and end up with a product that no one wants to eat?"

The paper shows that one variety of GM potato gave some protection against one strain of blight (known as "Pink 6") in the third year of trials. JIC's other GM potato strain failed and the protected strain made no difference to the crop in the first two years when blight was limited or late. The GM potato was not tested for resistance to other strains of blight, such as the aggressive "blue 13" strain, and the researchers admit that the single genetic modification cannot protect against all strains. In contrast, conventionally-bred non-GM blight-resistant potatoes are already available and are tested against multiple strains of blight (3).

The GM industry's PR strategy is to focus on promises of future GM crops, which are never delivered in reality, rather than on the real problems with GM crops in the ground today (4). The main GM crops grown in North and South America are herbicide-tolerant GM crops, such as Monsanto's RoundUp Ready GM soya. Blanket spraying of these crops with weedkiller has led to the spread of herbicide-tolerant superweeds across more than half of US farmland and caused a major reduction in the numbers of Monarch butterflies, due to loss of habitat. British consumers are unwittingly contributing to this environmental damage by eating unlabelled meat, milk and eggs fed on imported GM feed (5). New GM crops resistant to more toxic weedkillers will enter the UK market soon if planted overseas (6).

"The GM industry is always promising jam tomorrow, but it's never jam today. The real next generation of GM crops will be tolerant to more toxic weedkillers such as 2,4-D, and cause even greater damage to the environment and wildlife" said Dr Wallace.

For further information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace 01298-24300 (office) 07903-311584 (mobile)

Notes for Editors:

(1)    Jones et al. (2014) Elevating crop disease resistance with cloned genes. Phil.Trans. R. Soc. B 368: 20130087. [Note: this link has been corrected]

(2)    BBSRC grants since 2005:

BBC0075221: Isolation of new potato genes for resistance to Phytophthora infestans from wild diploid Solanum species  £353,381;

BBE52718X1:  Late blight resistance and elevated flavonoid composition for potato improvement  £112,179;

BBG02197X1: A pipeline of resistance genes to Phytophthora infestans from wild Solanum species and their accelerated isolation using Illumina sequencing methods (2009-12) £750,648;

P13270: Genetic and molecular characterisation of resistance genes to Phytophthora infestans (late blight) in diploid potato species £241,392;

BBE0248821:  Understanding host plant susceptibility and resistance by indexing and deploying obligate pathogen effectors £277,434.

BB/G02197X/1: A pipeline of resistance genes to Phytophthora infestans from wild Solanum species and their accelerated isolation using Illumina sequencing methods £750,648;

BB/H019820/1 An enduring pipeline to identify and utilize durable late blight disease resistance in potato £712,792.


(4)    GeneWatch UK and GM Freeze Press Release: Monsanto meets ministers to push return of GM crops to Britain. Thursday 25th October 2012.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=571449

(5)    GeneWatch UK PR: Supermarkets must stop harm to Monarch Butterfly, end GM animal feed use. 30th January 2014.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=574156

(6)    Testbiotech, GeneWatch UK and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) PR: Stop risky herbicide 2,4-D. 27th January 2014.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=574132

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