GM potato study enters second phase

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A study of blight-resistant genetically modified potatoes is scheduled to move into its second phase this month as Teagasc plans to plant more than 5,000 of the potato plants. Teagasc is the agriculture and food development authority in Ireland.

The Teagasc study aims to look at the impact the GM potato could have on soil microbes such as bacteria, fungi and worms. The study is part of the European Union-funded Amiga project, which as partners in 15 EU states.

Last year, 48 GM and non-GM potato plants were planted at Teagasc’s Oakpark crops research center in Carlow. Approximately 5,274 plants will be planted across two acres this year. One-third of the plants will be the GM potato, one-third will be non-GM and the final third will be an organic variety known for its blight resistance.

Amiga partners in Germany and the Netherlands will be using the Oakpark site to determine the impact GM planting has had on insects and bumblebees.

Anti-GM activists have criticized Teagasc for its plans to continue with the testing, but senior research officer, Ewen Mullins, Ph.D., said, the study was being done to help farmers face the challenges of growing potatoes.

Mullins said a blight-resistant potato could be developed within 5 years. It would take 14 years to bring such a potato to market using conventional breeding practices.

The Oakpark site will hold an open day on crops on June 26 and the GM project will be explained to visitors.

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