Argentina approves GM potato for human consumption

The government celebrated the approval of the first genetically modified crops (GMOs) developed by Argentine scientists, confirmed yesterday in the Official Gazette, as a great achievement. While it certainly is an important achievement, the authorization of virus-resistant potatoes means that, for the first time, Argentina will offer its population direct consumption of GM foods.

After years of analysis, the Ministry of Agriculture published the resolutions that enable the planting and sale of the first two transgenic "made in Argentina". The presidency had been greatly promoting these developments for obvious reasons: before going Cristina Kirchner wanted to show them as an example of the success of her science and technology policy.

The GMOs that were approved were: the HB4 soybean that tolerates drought, HB4, whose patent belongs to Indear (a partnership between the Conicet and Bioceres); and a potato resistant to the PVY virus, which was developed between Conicet and Tecnoplant. Thus Argentina entered the club of countries that develop agricultural biotechnology, which is composed of Brazil (1 event), Cuba (1), Indonesia (1), China (5) and the US (over 40).

Almost 20 years after the first GMO, Monsanto’s RR soy, was allowed in the country, the Kirchener administration took a tough and powerful decision: approving a transgenic potato. So far Argentina has authorized 32 GMOs, but only in soybean, corn and cotton crops. None of these crops are for direct human consumption and therefore there hasn’t been great resistance among the population to the advancement of these technologies. The situation might be more difficult for genetically modified potatoes. As a result, Tecnoplant sources told Clarin yesterday that they wouldn’t rush into this and that they would only start selling seeds within at least two years.

Of the 28 countries that grew GM crops in 2014, only a handful dared to challenge its inhabitants’ mood with GMO for consumption that aren’t processed. Bangladesh has an eggplant; China, papaya and tomato; and United States, a pumpkin. There is a precedent for modified potatoes: United States and Canada planted a GM potato variety in 1999, but it disappeared because companies like McDonald's and McCain refused to give their customers GM.

Things seem simpler for the new drought tolerant soybeans -the first of their kind in the world. In order not to jeopardize the exports of the Argentinian soy production, the Ministry of Agriculture’s only condition was that Bioceres refrain from marketing the crop until China accepts it; a condition had been previously imposed on multinationals like Dow.


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