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By Elizabeth Bravo
Although the researchers assure that it is not necessary to take precautionary measures, it constitutes a risk of great magnitude to test this transgenic variety in countries that are centers of origin of the crop, and in which the potato also plays such an important sociocultural role for the Andean peoples.
The journal Nature announced that evaluations are being carried out with transgenic potatoes in two countries that are centers of origin of this crop: Peru and Bolivia.
The potato you are working with has two characteristics: a protein has been introduced to give resistance to a nematode, and on the other hand, its flowers produce sterile males. Although the researchers assure that it is not necessary to take precautionary measures, it constitutes a risk of great magnitude to test this transgenic variety in countries that are centers of origin of the crop, and in which the potato also plays such an important sociocultural role for the Andean peoples.
Years ago there were already protests from peasant organizations when they learned that trials of this same variety of potato were being attempted in the Cochabamba region.
This leads us to wonder if the crop is to be contaminated in its center of origin, as has already happened with corn in Mexico. If this is the case, we can't keep quiet
Other types of transgenic potatoes are being developed and evaluated, and all are designed to be grown in the Third World. For example, they want to transform South Africa into a potato experimentation center, to benefit a group of US biotechnology companies.
Elizabeth Bravo - RALLT - Network for a GMO-Free Latin America
1. Transgenic Potatoes Are Evaluated at the Center for the Diversity of Potato Varieties.
On November 11, an investigation was published in Nature stating that a genetically modified (GM) variety of potato, capable of resisting the main pests of this crop, is not a threat to other organisms because plants produce unviable pollen, which makes it impossible to transfer genes to other related varieties.
The group of researchers led by Howard Atkinson at the University of Leeds in Great Britain, affirm that their method ensures biosecurity without challenging the precautionary principle towards GM crops in regions where there are closely related varieties. The precautionary principle could prevent, according to the Nuffield Center for Bioethics, poor farmers and consumers in underdeveloped countries from benefiting from modified crops.
Atkinson and fellow organizations in Bolivia, Peru, and the Netherlands inserted a rice gene into potatoes to protect them from a microscopic nematode that causes potato root disease (1).
The gene produces a protein - cystatin - that interferes with the nematode's ability to digest proteins in its diet. By ensuring that the gene is only active in the roots of the potato and not in the above-ground portion or in the tuber itself, the researchers say they have minimized its potential for interaction with other unwanted species.
They add that the gene would not enter the human food chain despite the fact that cystatin is present in our diet when we eat rice or corn. It is also found in saliva. With this background, they add that it is unlikely to be a risk to human health (2).
By comparing the insects and microbes associated with the potato, the researchers found that the rice gene added to the potato has no effect on non-target organisms (3).
However, these scientists found that pollen from GM potatoes can spread over short distances to related varieties and species, leading to a process of genetic contamination of traditional potato varieties. Because the gene that protects potatoes from nematodes also affects their relatives, there is a risk that these plants will become invasive.
To solve this problem, researchers have tried to solve their technological problem with more technology, and for this they inserted the rice gene into a variety of potato called Revolution. Potatoes have the male and female parts in the same flower but the male part of Revolution is sterile. It cannot produce viable pollen, and it cannot pollinate other potatoes or their wild relatives. This, the researchers say, "provides a basis for initial field trials of resistance to nematodes or other pests without gene crossover from the test potato."
"This approach is practical for crops, such as potatoes and bananas, that can reproduce asexually," says Atkinson.
The Nature article, written by Carolina Celis of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, says that the cultivation of transgenic potatoes in the Andes should be limited to male sterile crops until concerns about the probable spread of genes to related species is experimentally investigated. . Celis and other colleagues say the findings show that the precautionary principle does not need to be applied to field trials of GM potatoes.
"We want to undertake field trials of the technology for potatoes and bananas in areas where there are no wild relatives, as in China in the case of potatoes," Atkinson tells SciDev.Net. "We would also like to test the Revolution variety in Andean fields isolated from other related plants and thus demonstrate the benefits and the absence of environmental impacts on unwanted organisms." What if there were no benefits and if there were risks? The cost of that experiment would be very high.
(1) It is important to mention that in the Andean countries, especially Peru and Bolivia, there are a large number of potato varieties that could mean solutions to this and other agronomic problems related to the crop.
(2) In any case, the cystatin that we consume from corn or rice is part of the natural system of these crops. The protein present in GM potatoes is synthetic, and is foreign to the natural system of the plant. Have the researchers done safety studies on the synthetic protein, as expressed in potatoes?
(3) To ensure that the introduced gene does not produce impacts on soil microorganisms, all the diversity and richness of Andean soils and the various potato-related crops must be studied.
Source: Mike Shanahan
12 November 2004
To see the full document in Nature see in:
2. South African Biosafety Regulators Reach an Agreement with the Transgenic Potato Industry?
The South African government has approved a US-funded project to grow genetically modified potatoes in six secret locations on African soil. A similar potato was grown in the United States but was taken off the market due to consumer resistance.
Through a press release sent by USAID and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agro-biotech Applications (ISAAA) funded by the US Department of Agriculture, it was announced that the South African regulatory authority had authorized support for the project. For this project, ISAAA receives contributions from agrochemical and seed companies: Bayer, CropScience, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Syngenta, Cargill, Dow AgroSciences and KWS SAAT AG.
The potato project, to be carried out by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), was authorized despite objections raised by the African Center for Biosafety and Biowatch South Africa.
According to South African legislation, the government has the obligation to inform opposition sectors about the result of decisions made about the release of genetically modified products. In this instance, Mariam Mayet of the African Center for Biosafety said, that the Department of Agriculture wanted to give ISAAA the opportunity to carry out public relations on behalf of ARC and Golden Genomics, a biotechnology consultancy run by the controversial Muffy Koch.
According to opposition groups, the previous field trials conducted by ARC were poorly designed and the ARC was unable to answer the key questions they were asked about the efficacy and safety of transgenic potatoes.
The groups received very little information to be able to prepare their response to the request made by the ARC for trials with GM potatoes. Access to information on genetic engineering is the current subject of Supreme Court litigation brought by Biowatch South Africa against the South African Department of Agriculture.
Biowatch South Africa expressly asked that the decision on the potato project be postponed until the Supreme Court issues a verdict on the public interest lawsuit brought against the government on the secret proliferation of genetically modified organisms in South Africa.
Mayet added that: "We have found the scientific design of the field trials proposed for 2005 to be very negligent. Ecological impacts on unwanted species have only been addressed to a limited extent and essential experiments were not performed to measure the stability of the transgene and horizontal gene flow. Therefore, we demanded that the tests be stopped as they posed an unacceptable risk to the environment. "
Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss from Biowatch South Africa said: "The potato project aims to target small farmers, even though the socio-economic impacts of transgenic potatoes have simply not been considered. This is unacceptable. Potatoes are an important crop for local people. South Africans, which has quickly become a staple of the South African diet. "
Despite the fact that part of the potato project receives public funds, the payment and use of more than ten patents have not yet been negotiated. How can one speak of benefits for small-scale farmers on the one hand, and patents on the other? Said Pschorn-Strauss.
The government tried to feed South African consumers genetically modified potatoes, Mayet said.
ARC apparently plans to commercialize the transgenic potatoes in 2007.
To read the objections to the GM potato field trials, see:
Cape Town. July 27, 2004.-
3. Sweden Approves Transgenic Potato Crops.
Sweden has approved the cultivation of the first genetically modified potato - not for human consumption, but for the production of paper starch. The decision has generated controversy in the European Union, which has yet to ratify the Swedish decision as the waste products will be used as animal fodder and may enter the food chain of humans.
The debate is about the safety of GM potatoes after Dr. Arped Pusztai experimented with them in 1998. After this event, he pointed out that he would never eat those potatoes. Dr Pusztai, who was working at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, discovered that rats fed transgenic potatoes developed immune system defects and growth retardation equivalent to a 10-year period in humans. His results were questioned by the pro-GMO scientific community, the Rowett Institute suspended it, and the Royal Society attacked it.
The conflict affected the credibility of those involved and cost Dr. Pusztai his career, but the question of whether transgenic potatoes were safe was never resolved because there were never plans to grow them for food.
Pete Riley from Friends of the Earth said: "There are a lot of unanswered questions about GM potatoes and there will have to be stricter laws that keep them out of the human food chain."
There is no evidence that animals fed transgenic crops are harmed or possessed resistance to antibiotics or other characteristics but there is considerable public resistance.
Gabriella Cahlin, spokeswoman for the Swedish Council of Agriculture insisted: "It is not an edible potato."
The new potato contains high amounts of starch that can be used in the production of paper. However, she accepted that the by-products would be used for animal feed and fertilizers. This can stop the EU approval? something that according to the Swedes could take up to six years depending on the opposition.
The EU has approved about a dozen genetically modified crops, including varieties of corn, canola and soybeans, but this is the first attempt to introduce a potato. This has already been grown in trials by Plant Science Sweden and is the first transgenic crop in that country.
The Guardian, UK, by Paul Brown
April 9, 2004
4. Scots Apply for Credit from Gates to Develop a Potato
Scottish scientists are seeking support from Bill Gates, the Microsoft billionaire, to launch a yellow potato in the Third World. They have developed two varieties that contain their own carotenoids, substances believed to protect against cancer, heart disease and deterioration of the disease. sight in the elderly.
Pigments from carotenoids are what give the red, orange and yellow hues to certain fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, citrus fruits, peppers and tomatoes.
Now researchers at the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Invergowrie, near Dundee, have developed transgenic versions of two potato varieties, Desiree and Mayan Gold, which contain up to six times more beta-carotene than the natural amount.
This is even higher than the levels found in a type of transgenic rice (1) that has also been developed to combat nutritional deficiencies in the Third World.
Potatoes are the daily food of millions of people around the world, however, most of these varieties contain very low levels or no carotenoids, therefore, they have a white or pale yellow color (2).
A report published in the Journal of Experimental Botany describes how SCRI scientists used genetic material from a Japanese brewery for the project.
They now hope to transfer those improvements in potato nutritional fortification to underdeveloped countries if a multi-million dollar bid proposed to the Bill and Melinda Gates Global Challenge Consortium Human Health Program is successful.
Transgenic potatoes have had a controversial history in Scotland, but project manager Dr Mark Taylor said: "This development is revolutionary and demonstrates the potential we have with biotechnology to improve levels of important nutrients in an essential part of the world. our diet. "
November 16, 2004, The Herald
RALLT - Network for a GMO-Free Latin America - Bulletin 119 Papa GM
(1) refers to the famous golden rice, to which several genes have been inserted so that rice can reproduce the entire metabolic pathway necessary to produce carotenoids, defying millions of years of natural evolution.
(2) there are many crops that have carotenoids, without having to resort to genetic engineering.