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Biotech Giant BASF's Genetically Engineered "Frankenpotato' Faces Strong Opposition in EU

Brussels, Belgium - The EU should recognise scientific evidence, follow its own legal requirements and protect European consumers by not authorising the use of a potentially harmful GM potato developed by German chemical company BASF, said Greenpeace ahead of a crucial EU Agriculture Council vote on Monday.

The potato contains an antibiotic resistance marker gene (ARMG)(1) known as nptII, which conveys resistance to antibiotics and which should already have been phased out under EU law since 2004(2). Despite this and despite a number of legal concerns, the European Food Safety Authority gave a positive opinion on the BASF potato, paving the way for Monday's vote.

"This potato is blighted by too many inconsistencies for the Council to legally approve it. The EFSA opinion upon which the Commission proposal is based contradicts the scientific opinions of other international institutions and also EFSA's own previous opinions on the same issue. Therefore, the Commission proposal is unlawful," said Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU GMO policy director.

Both the WHO and the European Medicine's Agency (EMEA) contradicted EFSA's decision and found that the families of antibiotics affected by the potato gene (kanamycin and neomycin) are "critically important"(3) for veterinary and human use and "cannot be classified as of no or only minor therapeutic relevance".(4) EFSA subsequently recognised that the BASF potato ARMG confers resistance to antibiotics of critical importance but failed to modify its position. Crucially, an EFSA opinion of 2004 declared that products containing ARMGs affecting "highly relevant" antibiotics should not be placed on the market.(5)

An attached legal opinion commissioned by Greenpeace and carried out by leading UK barrister Paul Lasok QC(6) highlights the legal inconsistencies concerning the classification and the possible authorisation of the BASF potato. "It is very difficult to see how a GMO could be authorised in 2008 if it contained an ARMG that should have been phased out by 31 December 2004," says Paul Lasok QC.

Greenpeace calls on the Council to take into consideration the scientific opinions of the WHO and EMEA and recognise the legal problems that render the authorisation of the BASF GM potato impossible. "The information the Commission based its proposal to the Council on is seriously flawed and this highlights the huge cracks in the EU's authorisation system. The truth is that the BASF potato did not undergo a full risk assessment as required by EU law. EFSA did not investigate the effects of the potato on biodiversity, and information on health and ecological impact is missing," said Marco Contiero.

BASF could have easily extracted the ARMG before going into production, but chose not to in order to save money and time. "The use of this outdated gene technology is irresponsible. No-one in their right mind would run the risk of increasing antibiotic resistance in humans and animals and jeopardise the treatments to a variety of illnesses," said Marco Contiero.

Notes to Editor - A Greenpeace media briefing with a chronology of decisions on the BASF GM potato is available for download at: http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/press-centre/policy-papers-briefings/brief ing-basf-gm-potato.

- A legal briefing by leading UK barrister Paul Lasok QC on the legal inconsistencies concerning the case for the authorisation of the BASF GM potato is available for download at: http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/press-centre/policy-papers-briefings/legal -briefing-on-basf-gm-potato.

(1) Antibiotic-resistant genes are a superseded biotech technology designed to show which plants have been successfully modified.

(2) Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms, Article 4(2) (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2001:106:0001:00 38:EN:PDF).

(3) World Health Organisation, Critically Important Antibacterial Agents for Human Medicine for Risk Management Strategies of Non-Human Use. Report of a WHO working group consultation, 15-18 February 2005, Canberra, Australia (http://www.who.int/foodborne_disease/resistance/amr_feb2005.pdf ).

(4) EMEA - Committee for medicinal products for veterinary use and Committee for medicinal products for human use, Presence of the antibiotic resistance marker gene nptII in GM plants for food and feed uses. EMEA/CVMP/56937/2007. 22 February 2007 (http://www.emea.europa.eu/pdfs/human/opiniongen/5693707en.pdf ).

(5) Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms on the use of antibiotic resistance genes as marker genes in genetically modified plants. Opinion adopted on 2 April 2004 (http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/Scientific_Opinion/opinion_gmo_05_en1,2.pdf ).

(6) Barrister of the year for The Lawyer Awards 2006.

Contact information
Marco Contiero ­
Greenpeace EU GMO policy director, marco.contiero@greenpeace.org,
tel. +32 2 274 1906, +32 (0)477 77 70 34 (mob.)
Mark Breddy ­
Greenpeace EU communications manager, mark.breddy@greenpeace.org,
tel. +32 2 274 1903, +32 (0)496 15 62 29 (mob.)