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Want GM fries with that?

(A version of this item has been published at

A university trial cultivation of genetically modified potatoes has begun in secret in northern England. The Telegraph reported in late July that the trial, destroyed by unidentified vandals in 2008, had been replanted by the University of Leeds without announcement.

European Union rules stipulate that the location of every GM trial must be published before commencement. The UK Department of Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs claim that the trial was a continuation of the previously aborted plantation, and no further approval was required.

The trial is being conducted by the University of Leeds through its Africa College. Its objective is to create a potato that is resistant to the potato cyst nematode (Globodera pallida).

DEFRA have insisted that the potatoes are being grown for experimental purposes only, will not be used for human or animal consumption, and are being grown on an isolated field which will be left fallow for several years afterwards.

Friends of the Earth have expressed concern that, as with plantations of other GM crops, wind will cause contamination of other potato crops in the vicinity through cross-pollination. FOE's initial opposition to the trial was expressed in 2007.

The British Government's policy on GM crops, announced in March 2004, is based upon the premise that "there is no scientific case for a blanket ban on the cultivation of GM crops in the UK, but that proposed uses need to be assessed for safety on a case-by-case basis."

In July 2009, chemical multinational BASF announced that it was terminating its research into GM potatoes in the UK, claiming that approval of their product was "lost in the politics" of the European Union.