VIEWS: 11 PAGES: 4 POSTED ON: 3/22/2011
Shedding light on the Spunta potato debate All transgenic crops must undergo a full safety assessment before they are approved for production in South Africa. The Agricultural Research Council’s (ARC’s) application to the Registrar of the GMO Act for general release approval for potato tuber moth (PTM) resistant potatoes is currently being processed. This application contains a full set of environmental, food and feed safety data that clearly show that the transgenic potatoes are as safe to grow and eat as conventional potatoes. This research was mainly performed at the ARC and Michigan State University (MSU) using international best practises and produced results of international standards. Safety to humans and the environment The submission provides experimental data which show that SpuntaG2 is as safe as conventional Spunta for planting and eating. These safety evaluations meet the international standards for environmental, food and feed safety testing. In particular: • The kanamycin antibiotic marker gene has been approved for food and feed use in 12 crops, including potato. Specialists have stated clearly that the use of this antibiotic marker gene in transgenic crops will not affect its use in clinics. • Sequence analysis and laboratory testing show no toxicity of the insect control protein to organisms other than the target pest. • SpuntaG2 potato nutrition and composition is the same as in the conventional variety. Sequence analysis and laboratory studies show no allergenic potential for the insect control protein. Impact on exports Standard cultivation practices for potatoes enable farmers to plant and harvest specific varieties without concern about pollen flow from adjacent crops. Farmers package potatoes on site for export and so do not need to be concerned about unintended mixing with transgenic varieties. • The ARC has investigated the potential impact on trade in response to concerns from a small group of commercial farmers who export potatoes to clients requesting non-GM produce. High adoption levels of transgenic maize, soybean and cotton have not affected exports of these commodities from South Africa and there is no evidence that this will be different for potatoes. For the small group of farmers profiting from non-GM export agreements, the regulatory officials have a mechanism in place to confirm that certain varieties of crops are not transgenic and this will be available to ensure that trade with conventional varieties is not interrupted. • Spunta is not an export cultivar in South Africa and commercial GM potatoes will not be grown for at least 4 years, giving the industry sufficient time to plan for this innovation. • Following approval of SpuntaG2, the ARC will work with biosafety focal points in SADC countries to enable them to make regulatory decisions about the use and import of GM potatoes in their own countries before commercial production begins. 1 Potato processing industry The potato food processing industry contracts farmers to supply specific cultivars and the approval of transgenic potatoes will not impact on this arrangement. Because pollen flow does not affect the genetics of potato harvests, farmers harvest what they plant. “Laboratory-made pesticide” Bt proteins are produced naturally all the time in concentrations far exceeding their levels in transgenic crops. Bt proteins have been a component of our diets for hundreds of years. Extensive studies of approved insect resistant crops for over a decade indicate that they provide environmentally friendly alternatives to chemical pesticide applications. Pest resistant crops have significantly reduced the application of pesticides in all countries where they have been adopted with considerable benefit to the environment and human health. Thus, these new technologies are proving to be an effective, sustainable and green technology for food production. Opposing safe, new technologies that are helping to feed the growing world population while, at the same time, decreasing the environmental impact of agriculture is shaky ground for an organisation claiming to uphold environmental protection. “Expensive patented technology” The moth resistant potatoes were developed with public money by public institutions on a not-for-profit basis. Using funding from USAID, the ARC partnered with MSU to develop the tuber moth resistant potatoes for inclusion in the ARC’s potato improvement programme. The developers are negotiating with the patent holders for royalty free use of the technology. This way, corporations will not profit from the moth resistant potatoes and farmers will not have to pay more for the insect resistant trait. “Contaminate the continent” Potato plants are short-lived in Africa and are unable to establish themselves outside of cultivation so that farmers rely on a steady supply of healthy planting material to maintain potato production. South Africa has supplied this planting material to neighbouring countries for decades without causing “contamination”. Environmental safety assessments indicate that SpuntaG2 will have no additional impact on growing environments other than its requirement for less pesticide treatments for potato tuber moth. • Independent market research shows a high acceptance rate for the new technology in both the US and Canada. Activists threatened to boycott food companies in an effort to undermine agricultural biotechnology. This economic threat forced food companies to revert to conventional potatoes at considerable cost to the farmers, consumers and environment. Consumers were not involved in this underhanded action. There is no evidence that consumers will stop buying potatoes once transgenic varieties are available for commercial production. • The adoption level of transgenic potatoes will be considerably lower than the current adoption levels of transgenic soybean, maize and cotton in South Africa. None of these transgenic crops have experienced a negative backlash from consumers in South Africa. 2 • The Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs, Lulu Xingwana, called for the adoption of mechanisms to improve food production and reduce storage losses in order to address current food supply shortages. SpuntaG2 has the potential to address both these needs, especially for resource poor farmers. Preventing farmer access to improved varieties cannot be justified by fear of reduced consumer spending on potatoes. • Indonesia and Egypt have several times requested access to SpuntaG2 technology. • The unabashed claim of no consumer confidence in the safety of GM potatoes, when billions of people have safely used and relied on transgenic crops for many years, is unsubstantiated (?). • There are no scientifically defensible data supporting the claim that problems with Bt genes have included immune reactions, impacts on organ weight and function, and allergic reactions – this is a manipulated claim that has been carefully reviewed and rejected by regulatory agencies around the world. It is important that this new technology is not restrained on the basis of the untruthful and unsubstantiated claims of a vociferous minority with a vested interest in stalling the adoption of biotechnology. “Benefit is only for farmers” Moth resistant potatoes are protected from PTM in storage, enabling farmers to save healthy tubers for future planting, and to store harvested potatoes for food and feed use for their community with much greater success than conventional potatoes. Potato industry data indicate that moth damage is the third most common reason for downgrading of potatoes on fresh produce markets, accounting for 15 per cent of downgrading from July 2006 to June 2007. As such, the protection against PTM infestation in stored tubers will have a significant impact on food supply and profit from harvested potatoes. Labelling The ARC is committed to providing information to the public and believes it is in the interest of consumer choice and public awareness to encourage voluntary labeling of transgenic potatoes. They plan to label all transgenic planting material, to require seed potato producers to label transgenic planting material and to request farmers to declare the transgenic nature of GM potatoes sent to formal and informal markets. Mass communication will be used to raise general awareness levels about transgenic potatoes and their timeline for entry onto the South African market. Certification and Detection Discussions with Potato Certification Services are ongoing on certification of the GM potatoes. The ARC has a PCR detection system for SpuntaG2 and is developing an identity preservation test kit for field use that will be available before commercial production starts around 2011. Public consultation and awareness The ARC will continue consultations with consumers and the food industry in the years leading up to commercial production of transgenic potatoes in South Africa. In 3 communication to date, consumer representatives have indicated that they are unable to assess the technology and its value until they can review the safety data and the performance of the cultivar in farmers’ fields. The general release approval will provide a safety risk assessment decision and will enable the ARC to undertake farmer participatory trials with SpuntaG2, which will help meet the needs identified by consumer organisations. The ARC has a communication plan that will be implemented once general release approval is obtained. The plan provides for information sharing with interested and affected stakeholders, the general public and regulators in neighbouring countries. Enabling smallholder farmers to evaluate SpuntaG2 Some commercial farmers are in favour of tuber moth resistant potato varieties and have expressed a wish to evaluate transgenic potatoes when these are available. Following general release approval, the ARC will enable interested smallholder farmers to evaluate the new technology. The potential benefits of the technology to improve potato production and reduce storage losses, especially in smallholder farming areas, do not justify the veto of this technology by some people who believe they will not benefit from it. 4
"Shedding light on GM potato"