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The BASF application has been evaluated by the independent expert group the Advisory Committee of Releases to the Environment (ACRE ). It is satisfied that the trials will not result in any adverse effect on human health or the environment. The GM potato developed by BASF is resistant to late potato blight. This can be a significant disease problem for UK potato growers, who normally combat it by applying chemical fungicides. The purpose of the research trials is to test the effectiveness of the potato’s resistance against UK strains of the disease.
In a recent speech, Stavros Dimas, the EU’s environment commissioner, noted that ‘MAS technology is attracting considerable attention’ and said that the EU ‘should not ignore the use of ‘‘upgraded’’ conventional varieties as an alternative to GM crops’. As MAS becomes cheaper and easier to use, and as knowledge in genomics becomes more easily available over the next decade, plant breeders around the world will be able to exchange information about best practices and democratise the technology. Already plant breeders are talking about ‘open source’ genomics, envisioning the sharing of genes.
The rice incident has shown that experimental lines are now contaminating the food chain, and no one would have been testing rice in Europe for GM because they would not have been expecting to find it. This raises the very significant question of what other foods are contaminated with GM traits that we are unaware of and are not looking for, and how do we ensure that we do know what we are eating? In the US there are significant outdoor trials growing pharmaceuticals in food crops. This would be very difficult to detect in food, as the authorities here would not necessarily know what they were looking for when testing.