As spring comes to Germany, the Czech Republic, and Sweden, farmers will be planting Amflora, a genetically modified potato, on at least 620 acres.

Produced by BASF SE of Germany, Amflora is the first genetically modified organism (GMO) to win approval from the European Union since 1998.  BASF SE is the world’s largest chemical company.

amflora-featured.jpgThe decision, the first since Monsanto’s MON810 maize was approved for cultivation in Europe, came after the portfolio for GMO issues was transferred to the EU’s health and consumer affairs department from its environmental directorate.

John Dalli, EU’s health commissioner, said all scientific issues were fully addressed.

The potato is actually produced for the starch industry, and not for human consumption.   It was developed as a thickening agent for paper, adhesives, and textiles.  A company director said approval by the EU was “a milestone.”

Greenpeace EU’s spokesman called the approval “cold-blooded” and said it “flies in the face of science, public opinion, and EU law.” 

European public opinion, however, includes concern in some EU countries that they are falling behind in agricultural opportunities.   During the dozen years that Europe has been a GMO-free zone, other agricultural areas like the U.S., Canada, and Brazil have reaped benefits from GM crops.

The EU’s approval requires separation of Amflora potatoes from organic and GM-free plantings.  The EU requires Amflora be cultivated before they produce seeds to prevent unwanted dissemination.

Amflora does use antibiotic-resistance genes, which opponents say is the primary reason it should not have been approved.  They argue that in the 15 years since Amflora was developed the biotechnology industry has developed alternatives to antibiotics.

BASF SE and Monsanto have jointly funded $1.5 billion in research on GM crops that produce higher yields and more resistances.   They are holding out on the promise that GM crops could boost agricultural income in Europe by as much as $2 billion a year.

Efforts have been made in the United States to block or at least slow the use of GM crops.   Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets, already used by 90 percent of the growers in the U.S. are facing a challenge in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Friday. 

Opponent groups want the court to order sugar beet farmers across the nation to stop planting the Roundup Ready product.

Monsanto is also before the U.S. Supreme Court over its Roundup Ready Alfalfa, which San Francisco courts have put through a series of hoops that still has the U.S. Department of Agriculture writing an environmental impact statement for the alfalfa seeds.  The public comment period regarding the impact statement closed yesterday.  (See “Sustainable Ag: GE Alfalfa Threatens Organics,” March 3)