Just two weeks ago, the EU environmental ministers postponed their decision on the cultivation of BASF's GM starch potato Amflora. Instead the decision has now been put on the agenda of the agricultural ministers this coming Monday. It appears that the EU Commission is determined to get this GM potato approved, and also to get the first cultivation approval since 1998 and the moratorium.
[img_assist|nid=108|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=150|height=65]The application for Amflora went unnoticed for some time, and as usual the EFSA gave a positive opinion even though Amflora contains the antibiotic resistance gene nptII against kanamycin, neomycin and a number of other antibiotic. In December 2006, the Standing Committee did not get a qualified majority in favour or against it, and the application was passed on to the environmental ministers.
However before it came to that, the possibility that the antibiotic resistance trait could be spread to soil bacteria raised concerns within the EU authorities, and DG Environment blocked the further authorisation until EMEA, the European Medicines Agency, would give an opinion on the use of this antibiotic resistance gene.
The WHO has listed kanamycin as an reserve antibiotic against multiple-resistant tuberculosis. The EMEA came to the that the antibiotics against which the nptII gene provides resistance are much more often used than the EFSA assumed.
But while EFSA acknowledges that horizontal gene transfer can occur, but it simply keeps on stating that it wouldn't happen often enough to be a problem, and that there already are soil bacteria resistant to these antibiotics. So Amflora was back on the agenda of the environmental ministers at the end of June, who in turn decided to postpone a decision until they would have more information.
Meanwhile BASF had already registered about 150 ha in Germany for the cultivation of Amflora. Since the potato wasn't approved at the time of planting they simply turned that into a field trial. Surprisingly it is not clearly defined what a field trial actually is, so now BASF is undertaking 'field trials' with the aim produce seed potatoes for commercialization. One can only hope that the definition what a field trial is, and what not will be clarified in future to stop large-scale commercial growing under the pretence of "field trials'.
To make matters worse, in one case BASF manage to plant their potatoes on a wrong field.
Now Amflora is back on the agenda, and the agricultural ministers are asked to take a decision. One can't but help feeling that there is a clear determination to approve and grow Amflora no matter what.