Blight Resistant GM Potatoes for Co Carlow Field Trials

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved an application from Teagasc to carry out field trials on a genetically modified (GM) potato line with improved resistance to late potato blight.

The field trials will be carried out at one location at Oak Park, Co Carlow. The trials can be carried out between now and the end of 2016, with post-trial monitoring continuing until 2020. Planting will not exceed two hectares in area.

According to data published by Teagasc scientists, annual losses due to potato blight in Ireland have been estimated at €15m per annum, and managing the disease requires up to 15 fungicide applications throughout the growing season.

The GM potato line has been altered with an R or resistance gene along with its native promoter and terminator intact, using GMO technology. The R gene confers the GM potato line with resistance to the late blight fungus (Phytophthora infestans).  The gene was taken from a wild potato species (Solanum venturii) originating in South America and reinserted into the genome of a potato variety commonly cultivated in the EU (Solanum tuberosum cultivar Desiree).

The key aims of the trial are to assess the impact of GM potato cultivation on bacterial, fungal, nematode, and earthworm diversity in the soil and to identify integrated pest management strategies that could be affected by adopting GM late blight-resistant potato.

The same GM potato line that will be used in the field trial was released in three locations in the Netherlands last year. No unforeseen effects were observed during these trials, according to the Dutch Competent Authority.

Meanwhile, GM potatoes with improved resistance to late blight (similar GMO) are currently being trialed in Belgium (since March 2011) and in the UK (since May 2010).

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is currently considering an application from BASF to authorize the import, processing, and cultivation of a late blight-resistant potato within the EU, which could have relevance for Irish agriculture.

The EPA said today that its approval for the trials follows detailed examination and assessment, as well as consultation with a range of bodies, including the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) and the National Advisory Committee on GMOs. It said 83 representations were received from interested parties and these were fully assessed as part of the licensing process.

The trials will be subject to strict conditions with regular monitoring and reporting to the EPA, which will also check the trial sites for compliance with the license conditions on a regular basis.

Teagasc will be required to submit bi-monthly reports to the EPA during the growing season as well as an end-of-year report. Information about the trials including the results of monitoring will be available to the public at EPA Headquarters in Wexford and on the EPA website.