January 27, 2006

Potato-loving Ireland mulls test of GMO spuds

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland, Europe's biggest per capita
consumer of potatoes, is weighing a proposal by German
chemicals group BASF to grow varieties that have been
genetically modified to resist disease.

BASF asked the Environment Protection Agency this week to
approve a field trial of several strains of GMO potato that are
resistant to blight, the cause of the Irish potato famine that
killed one million people and forced two million to leave the
island in 1845.

Today, the Irish eat some 121 kg of potatoes per person
every year, or nearly 1,000 potatoes for every man, woman and

Previous trials of GMO foods in Ireland have been disrupted
by environmentalists who pulled up crops and damaged fields.
The Green Party and Sinn Fein both called for the application
to be rejected.

"Genetically modified crops are likely to contaminate our
conventional and organic produce," said Green Party Leader
Trevor Sargent. "But the Green Party will continue to fight any
predatory tactics of any GM food company, to undermine the
viability of Ireland as a green, clean food producing island."

Blight-resistant GMO potatoes were first developed in 2003
after scientists discovered a species of wild potato in Mexico
that is naturally resistant to the disease, then inserted the
gene into commercial strains.

The EPA plans to review submissions from the public
regarding potential health and environmental risks within the
next 28 days.