Published online: Nov 02, 2009
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South Africa's genetic regulator has rejected an application to introduce GM potatoes to the country.
The Executive Council rebuffed the Agriculture Research Council (ARC), citing 11 biosafety and socio economic and agronomic concerns for rejecting the commercial release application. It ruled GM potatoes pose unacceptable risks to human health, the environment and the farming community.
The ARC had touted the GM potato, engineered to resist tuber moths, as a new agricultural technology that would benefit smallholder and commercial farmers. Its five-year field trial program was financially supported by USAID and Michigan State University.
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) says the executive council concluded ARC's toxicology studies were inadequate, scientifically poorly designed and fundamentally flawed.
It was unconvinced the GM potato would benefit small holder farmers, who are faced with more fundamental production problems such as access to water and seed, and found that the Potato Tuber Moth is a low priority for most farmers.
"We are elated with this decision because it confirms our contention the GM potato was not developed in answer to pressing problems faced by South African farmers, but rather as a solution developed in search of a problem," ACB director Mariam Mayet says.
The ACB says Potatoes South Africa, representing commercial and small holder potato farmers, was also opposed to the GM introduction.
ARC has been involved in field trials in South Africa since 2004.
It says SpuntaG2 has shown complete protection against the tuber moth during six years of testing in six major potato growing areas of South Africa.
ARC announced in July last year it would apply to national authorities for a safety assessment and general release approval of the SpuntaG2o, which is resistant against potato tuber moth damage in the field and in storage.
"This is the first publicly funded genetically modified crop to enter the safety approval process for general use in South Africa," it said. "The SpuntaG2 potato provides farmers with an alternative to chemical pesticide use for the control of potato tuber moth. This can reduce costs and be healthier for people and the environment.
"If the regulators and smallholder farmers are satisfied with SpuntaG2, the ARC will transfer potato tuber moth resistance to other preferred varieties."
South Africa produces more than one million tonnes of seed and table potatoes a year.