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Will potato frying companies remain GMO free? And is there hope for DuRPh?

[deze tekst bestaat alleen in het engels.] In the last weeks we, ASEED, Milieudefensie, Wervel en Stichting Zaadgoed, have sent a message to the four main frying companies in the Netherlands, Farm Frites, Aviko, Lamb-Weston|Meijer VOF and McCain asking them to be clear about their future use of GM potatoes in Europe. All four companies state that they all are not using GM potatoes at the moment (which is quite likely because there are no GM consumer potatoes allowed yet).

Farm Frites and Aviko both stated that they also are not interested in using GM potatoes in the future. Lamb-Weston is less clear on this. They state that because people in Europe do not want GMOs and labelling is required they are not using GM potatoes. If the consumer still does not want them in the future, which seems to be the case, then Lamb-Weston will not use GM potatoes, at least not in Europe. McCain states in their frequently asked questions on their website that they do not use GM potatoes in any of their products. They do state that if there will be potential benefits of GM potatoes they might use them if consumers would want them and that they will abide the rules. [1]

The thing is that consumers in Europe do not want them and that in Europe labelling is compulsory so very unlikely that they will be marketed in Europe. The potatoes that are being developed at the moment, for example in the DuRPh project (see below), are disease resistant ones. This means that for the frying companies they do not have direct benefits. On the other hand there are risks of negative publicity and a consumer boycott of the frying company and/or their buyers, eg supermarkets, because of the broad existing rejection of GM crops. This means big risks and no advantage so it seems just not worth it for companies to use GM crops, also for the two that are less clear about their potential future use of GM potatoes. In the meantime the Wageningen University (WUR) is developing GM potatoes that seem to stay resistant against late blight in their DuRPh project [2]. The good thing about this project is that the DuRPh project has some money for finding markers for resistance genes, or R-genes, that can be used in a programme for breeding organic potatoes Bioimpuls.

There are several problems though, one is that the consequences of breaking open the DNA and inserting genes in unknown places are not known yet, even if the genes that are used are from wild potatoes. While scientists related to this project have tried to get cisgenic modification out of the GM Regulation of the EU. This would mean less safety testing and no labelling. No options to trace back the potatoes (apart from testing in labs) if there are health and other problems and no consumer choice if the potatoes are not organic. [3]

The DuRPh project is not designed to actually bring any new varieties to market, this is up to the breeders, in the Netherlands these are assembled in seedling companies. These seedling companies work closely together with the frying companies, for example Farm Frites works together with HZPC. They state what kind of properties they want to see in a potato and HZPC makes sure that the potatoes with these properties go to the farmers who grow them for Farm Frites. HZPC is one of the two big seedling companies, who already declared they would not use GM potatoes party because this would be a too great of a risk for the export of potatoe seedlings. [4] So it seems that the commercialization of the DuRPh project will face some serious challenges: on the one hand they will have difficulty finding developers and growers for their potatoes and on the other hand they still need to go through the regulatory process of the EU for each variety which will take money and time.

[1] http://www.mccain.com/GoodBusiness/FAQ/Pages/default.aspx#answer3
[2] http://www.durph.nl
[3] https://aseed.net/en/criticism-on-duprhh-project/
[4] idem