Ban on Monsanto spuds for chips

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The Independent Online
CHIP manufacturers, facing a national potato shortage following the failure of last year's crop, have been warned by the Government not to illegally import genetically modified potatoes from America, writes Marie Woolf.

The Ministry of Agriculture has sent out written warnings to the makers of chips, crisps, and instant potato after a tip-off that some chip producers have been trying to illegally import Monsanto's New Leaf potatoes. It warned the chip producers, hit by soaring potato prices, that importing GM potatoes into Britain is an offence and could bring stiff penalties.

Officials have also put trading standards officers around the country on alert to step up inspections and carry out DNA tests on foods they suspect may be made from GM potatoes.

"Officially, nobody has been prosecuted for this, but we are aware of the suggestions going around about GM potatoes that may be coming in illegally," said a spokesman for the ministry. "Monsanto's GM potatoes are illegal because they have not been approved."

Because the European Union has not given Monsanto a licence to sell its New Leaf potatoes in Britain, it is illegal to import them. The price of a bag of chip-shop chips has more than doubled to over pounds 1 in recent months. Potato crops in Holland, one of Britain's biggest suppliers, have been ruined because of flooding. In Britain, 70 per cent of potatoes are still in the ground because heavy rains have made it hard to harvest crops.

MPs want food manufacturers to step up DNA checks to make sure consumers are not unwittingly eating GM snacks.

"We don't want any experiments with our chips," said Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat environment spokesman. "British food producers must take steps to ensure that they are not using GM potatoes without knowing it. The law is clear on this matter. The last thing British consumers need right now is imports of dodgy potatoes from America."

No potatoes grown in Europe are genetically modified, but in the US and Canada potatoes have had their genes altered to produce special properties, such as insect resistance.

The Potato Processors' Association, which represents the major UK crisp and chip manufacturers, says that all its members, such as Golden Wonder, Walkers and McCain, have strict assurance schemes to make sure their potatoes are GM-free.