Defra approves controversial potato cyst nematodes GM trial

Defra has given the go ahead to trial highly controversial genetic modification for a project that will focus on potato cyst nematodes-resistent strains.

Scientists will look at a crop genetically modified (GM) to resist infection by potato cyst nematodes, said DEFRA.

Researchers at Leeds University applied to look at up to 12,000 GM potatoes over a 3-year period from one site of no more than 0.1ha for each year.

Professor Howard Atkinson, a nematode specialist at the university, said the trial would evaluate control technology that prevented new protein development in the plant.

However, some people worried new protein development in transgenic plants could affect insects other than the target pest, or could prove toxic or trigger allergic reactions.

But Professor Atkinson said: "Testing under glass wouldn't mimic field conditions," adding "This is such a small-scale trial, poses no environmental risk and the plants will be disposed of by a specialist company.

"Around 10bn potatoes are grown commercially in the UK every year and we feel small-scale trials are a safe way to demonstrate no negative impacts on the environment."

DEFRA's advisory committee on releases to the environment, ACRE, said the potatoes would not be put into the human food chain or fed to livestock.

"ACRE is satisfied all the appropriate measures have been taken to avoid adverse effects to human health and the environment," said the committee.

ACRE said the team of scientists would leave the ground fallow and unploughed for two years after the harvest of the GM tubers.


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