GM Potatoes – Facts and Fictions
22nd September, 2006
In August 2006, German chemicals company BASF applied to start GM potato field trials
in Cambridge and Derbyshire as early as next spring. The GM industry is making many
claims about this product, but are these based on the truth? Andy Rees investigates
ARGUMENT NO. 1: WE NEED THIS PRODUCT
Late blight (Phytophthora infestans) costs UK farmers around £50m each year, even with regular application of fungicides. BASF claims that its GM potato would reduce fungicide spraying from around 15 times a year to just two.
This sounds impressive, until you realise that just 1,300 of the 12,000 tonnes of agrochemicals used on UK potatoes are fungicides – meaning that, at most, pesticide usage would be reduced by only 10 per cent.
As far as actually reducing pesticide usage is concerned, Robert Vint of Genetix Food Alert observes that “such claims ... usually [soon] prove to be extreme exaggerations”. The biotech industry has a long track record of first exaggerating a problem, then offering an unproven and oversold GM solution. A classic example of this was Monsanto’s showcase project in Africa, the GM sweet potato. It was claimed
that the GM potato would be virus resistant, that it would increase yields from four to 10 tonnes per hectare, and that it would lift the poor of Africa out of poverty.
However, this crop not only wasn’t virus-resistant, but yielded much less than its...
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