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[SANET-MG] GM potatoes kicked out of Andes
The prudence of the government of Cusco is in sharp contrast to the
outlook of USDA who maintains seed banks in proximity to GM crops and
Published online: 18 July 2007; | doi:10.1038/news070716-5
GM potatoes expelled from Andes
Peruvians decide to ban transgenic crop from the potato homeland.
Some researchers are concerned with preserving the genetic diversity of
Agricultural Research Service
This Thursday, the government of Cusco, a region in the Peruvian Andes,
is scheduled to ban all genetically modified (GM) varieties of potato,
according to the London-based International Institute for Environment
and Development (IIED). The area was the birthplace of many varieties of
spud, and is still home to thousands of kinds of potato, from the
notoriously hard to peel q'achun waq'achi to the dark grey amakjaya.
The move was supported by a Peruvian non-profit organization called
Association ANDES, along with the IIED. The motivation is both to ensure
that genes from GM potatoes do not infiltrate the native potatoes, and
to support efforts to market the area as a source of diverse, authentic,
organic potato varieties.
Alejandro Argumedo, associate director of Association ANDES, cites
emotional and economic reasons, as well as cautiousness, for the
decision. "This is a potato land. All potatoes have meaning. Potatoes
are believed to have spirit," he says. But also, he adds, "There is
great concern of contamination at the centres of origin." The ban will
also keep cheaper GM spuds from competing with the more expensive local
Argumedo has long been involved in repatriating varieties of potato that
had gone locally extinct, but are held in repositories such as the
International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima. "When the potatoes came back,
the culture came back," he says. "Genetic diversity and cultural
diversity are closely linked."
Not grown from seed
The growth of GM crops in areas where the genetic diversity of those
crops are of significant cultural importance has caused controversy
before. There have been concerns that growing GM maize in Mexico, for
example, might be a bad idea (see 'Report recommends ban of US GM maize
But some note that there are ways of allaying fears about the accidental
spread of GM potatoes. Creating types without viable seeds can help to
prevent genetic dispersal. Spuds can be grown asexually by planting the
sprouts, or 'eyes', from last year's crop. Other varieties are grown
from seed each year.
This month, the CIP announced the creation of a male-sterile potato that
is resistant to the pest tuber moth (Phthorimaea operculella). This,
according to Marc Ghislain, head of the biotechnology laboratory at CIP,
should lessen fears that biotechnologically manipulated genes from this
potato will be spread about.
In 2004, a group headed by Howard Atkinson of the University of Leeds,
UK, worked on male-sterile potatoes and concluded that with this method,
"scientific progress is possible without compromise to the precautionary
principle"1. The group had previously seen gene flow from non-sterile GM
potatoes to wild Peruvian relatives.
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