BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - European Union agriculture ministers failed to agree on whether to authorize cultivation of a genetically modified potato to produce industrial starch. The BASF Plant Science product - Solanum tuberosum L. line EH92-527-1 - is antibiotic-resistant and modified for enhanced content of the amylopectin component of starch. It would be the first biotech crop to be released for planting in Europe since 1998.

Several member states raised objections about the product's molecular characterization, allergenicity and toxicity, and complained that the monitoring plan and the detection method were inadequate. But a report from the EU's own food safety authority concluded that it was unlikely to have an adverse effect on human and animal health or the environment in the context of its proposed uses.

Under EU rules, unless ministers reach agreement for or against among themselves before October, an authorization decision will be made by EU officials - who already have backed the application.

"We have made sure this product is not just 100 percent safe but 120 percent safe," said Barbara Helfferich, spokeswoman for the European environment commissioner.

Limits Urged On Stem Cell Funds

Human embryonic stem cells lines must be obtained from non-implanted IVF embryos if European Union funding is to be granted for research on them, according to a just-released opinion of the European Group on Ethics. The expert group of academics and lawyers recognized the need to promote research, but insisted that it must be responsible, transparent, and in the public interest. They said any EU funding also should respect the diverse views among the EU's 27 member states.

Where possible, stem cell lines banked in the European Registry should be used, the experts added. And if alternatives with the same scientific potential as embryo-derived stem cells are found in the future, their use should be maximized. Meanwhile, there should be full respect for donors' rights in terms of health, informed consent, data protection and free donation.