The decision this week to approve a genetically modified (GM) potato to be grown on a commercial scale in the EU, the first such decision for 12 years, has sparked protest among environmentalists, consumers and farmers. The potato, developed by BASF to contain a higher percentage of starch, was approved by EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli, and is expected to be grown predominately in Germany for industrial purposes such as the paper industry, but not food.
"When BASF started to experiment with this GM potato,” commented Carlo Petrini, president of Slow Food International, “they said it would be used predominantly for industrial purposes, but the authorization now also includes its use in animal feed. This means that its antibiotic-resistant characteristic will also be introduced into the human food chain."
"It is very serious,” he added, “that this commissioner’s first action is to break an indisputable moratorium introduced precisely out of concern for our health. This demonstrates how the issue is being decided on the basis of the economic interests of the multinationals, without taking into consideration the as yet unknown dangers to public health. European citizens did not elect Dalli to represent them, but will now have to suffer the effects of his blatantly top-down decision. For its part, Slow Food will continue to oppose OGMs."
The decision follows a ruling in Mexico last month that gave private companies the go ahead for the first legal plantings of GM corn following a decade-long battle. Opponents are concerned that modified genes could spread and contaminate genetically valuable native varieties, from which modern corn was first hybridized between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago. Furthermore, these native genes could be needed someday to help strengthen hybrids.
In Tehuacán, where the Mesoamerican agriculture was born, the thousand members of the Slow Food Tehuacán Mixteca Popoloca Convivium have launched a campaign of worldwide solidarity to protect traditional varieties of maize from GMO strains.
These producers are organized in 70 cooperatives of organic corn and amaranth growers and use the milpa production method in which beans, pumpkin and chile are grown along side the major crops. Their aim is to educate family and farmer organizations about the richness of the biodiversity of which they are the guardians, encouraging the Mexican community to be proud of their cultural heritage and to work for its revitalization. In addition, they wish to alert government and policy makers to the severe impact that this decision will have on the life of Mexican farmers.