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The Sainsbury Laboratory received approval for a four-year trial of genetically modified (GM) potatoes

The Sainsbury Laboratory received approval for a four-year trial of genetically modified (GM) potatoes

The field trials are part of TSL’s Potato Partnership Project to develop a Maris Piper potato that is blight and nematode resistant, bruises less and produces less acrylamide when cooked at high temperatures.

In the United Kingdom, farming minister George Eustice (DEFRA) has approved a four-year trial of genetically modified (GM) potatoes at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich between 2017 and 2021.

The trial site, which is at the John Innes Centre, must meet various restrictions, including maintaining a width of 20 metres around the GM plants, and not exceed 1,000 sq m in size.

The field trials are part of TSL’s Potato Partnership Project to develop a Maris Piper potato that is blight and nematode resistant, bruises less and produces less acrylamide when cooked at high temperatures.

The project is majority funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) with additional funding from industry partners BioPotatoes (UK) and Simplot (US).

Professor Jonathan Jones welcomed the decision:

“I am delighted that we have approval for the field trials necessary to test our potato plants in standard field conditions.”

“We anticipate that the combination of resistance genes we will test this time will be even more difficult for late blight to overcome than the single gene we previously field tested, but the proof of the pudding is in the planting.”
In a letter of consent at the end of April, released without any promotion, Eustice wrote that he has “taken advice from the advisory committee on Releases to the Environment and Natural England”, and agreed the terms, limitations and conditions of consent with the Food Standards Agency in terms of health and safety to humans.

Anti-GM campaigners have criticised the decision, saying that field trials will be conducted without the usual preceding glasshouse experiments.

A multi-stakeholder objection was lodged against the trial signed by 33 organisations including farmers, scientists, retailers, caterers and environmentalists. Concerns included food safety, risk of contamination and the fact the potatoes “will be of no net benefit to society”.

Liz O’Neill, Director of campaign GM Freeze:

“We are deeply concerned that Defra has signed a regulatory blank cheque in consenting to the planting of experimental potatoes which have not even been analysed in a test tube, much less properly studied under controlled greenhouse conditions.”
Westminster has previously stood in favour of GM and "science-led" decisions, while the governments of Scotland and Wales have banned any cultivation of GM foods.
Companies in this Article
The J. R. Simplot Company is one of the largest privately held food and agribusiness companies in the United States
The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) is a world-leading research institute working on the science of plant-microbe interactions.