Title: ONTWIKKELING EN INTRODUCTIE VAN GENETISCH GEMODIFICEERDE AARDAPPELEN IN
NEDERLAND (THE DEVELOPMENT AND INTRODUCTION OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED POTATOES IN
Author: Bijman, W.J.
Den Haag - The Netherlands, Landbouw-Economisch Instituut (LEI-DLO), 1993
This report is part of a Technology Assessment process. It analyses the
state of the art in genetic engineering of potatoes. It discusses the
perspectives and barriers for commercial introduction of transgenic
potatoes in the Netherlands. The information is based on documentary
analysis and interviews. Emphasis is put on the interaction between the
development of transgenic potatoes and the restructuring of the potato
chain. The introduction of transgenic potatoes will further the vertical
integration in the product chain, but economic effects are hard to
quantify. Public attitude towards genetic engineered food products is still
This report analyses the development and introduction of genetically
modified potatoes in the Netherlands. This study is part of a larger
research programme on "Ecological, societal and ethical aspects of
biotechnology", funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management
and Fisheries. Genetically modified potatoes were chosen as a first case
study for the following reasons: potato is an important crop in Dutch
agriculture; potato farmers are obliged to reduce the use of chemical
pesticides, and are thus looking for alternative ways to prevent damage and
loss by pests and diseases; applied research on genetically modified
potatoes is well advanced.
This report is part of a Technologgy Assessment (TA) process. TA is
the study of the impact of new technologies as well as introducing the
outcome of the impact studies in decision making on those new technologies.
A major part of TA is analysing the technological development itself.
The following questions are answered in this report:
- What is the state of the art in applied research on genetically
modified potatoes (= transgenic potatoes)?
- When shall the first transgenic potatoes be marketed in the
- Who are the main (Dutch) actors involved in developing and
introducing transgenic potatoes? Why are they involved?
- How is the development and introduction of genetically modified
potatoes related to other (structural) developments within the potato
- What can be said about the economic impact of transgenic potatoes?
- What are the perspectives for public acceptance of transgenic
The information given in this report is based on documentary
analysis, on data from LEI-DLO databanks, and on interviews with key
persons directly or indirectly involved in the production, trade or
consumption of potatoes. The concept of the product chain is used, both for
defining the actors involved and for looking at the economic impact. The
potato chain consists of all actors involved with potato research, potato
breeding, potato farming, potato trade, potato processing and potato
2. Dutch potato production and sale
In 1990 almost 22,000 farms were engaged in potato production. In
arable farming potato is the most important crop, generating 45% of total
production value of all arable crops. In recent years the potato prices
have decreased, mainly due to abundant supply. This has had a depressing
effect on income in Dutch arable farming.
One of the major challenges for potato farmers is the reduction of
pesticide use. The use of chemical pesticides in very high in Dutch potato
cultivation, due to intensive farming methods. In 1990 farmers used more
than 12 million kg (active ingredient) of chemical pesticides for the
potato crop (purchasing costs: 162 million guilders). Government
environmental policies oblige farmers to reduce the use of pesticides by at
least 50% up to the year 2000.
In 1990 the Dutch potato production totalled seven million tonnes.
This total consists of 3.5 million tonnes of ware potatoes, 1 million
tonnes of seed potatoes and 2.5 million tonnes of starch potatoes. Seventy
percent of all seed potatoes is exported. Of the ware potato production two
thirds are exported, either as fresh potatoes or as potato products (frozen
french fries, potato chips, etc.). In recent years the export of potato
products has shown the highest growth rate. The industrial processing
potatoes has become more and more important. Of all ware potatoes more than
fifty percent is now supplied to the processing industry.
The trend in consumer preferences towards higher quality products and
more attention to environmental aspects is also affecting potato markets.
This can be seen from the growing market for ecologically produced
potatoes. The demand for higher quality products has lead to initiatives of
Integrated Chain Control. This means that all stages of the potato chain
are incorporated in efforts to enhance the quality of the final product.
The idea behind these efforts is that many quality aspects of the final
product are determined in preceding stages of the product chain.
3. Introduction of genetic engineering in potato breeding
Three groups of actors are directly engaged in the introduction of
genetic engineering in potato breeding: public research institutes,
biotechnology firms, and potato breeding companies. The most important
public research institutes are the Centre for Plant Breeding and
Reproduction Research (CPRO-DLO) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature
Management and Fisheries, and the Department of Plant Breeding (IVP) of the
Agricultural University Wageningen. Two new biotechnology firms are doing
research on transgenic potatoes in the Netherlands: Keygene, of Wageningen,
and MOGEN, of Leiden. Also important for the Dutch potato industry is the
Belgian new biotechnology firm Plant Genetic Systems (PGS). Several Dutch
potato breeding companies have research contracts with PGS.
The potato breeding companies, the third group of actors, are
currently going through a proces of restructuring. Firstly, there is a
concentration of companies under way, through mergers and take-overs.
Secondly, potato breeders have enlarged breeding research activities, as
potato breeding research at public institutes has been restructured.
Thirdly, the rise of genetic engineering has urged the companies to
increase investments in biotechnology research, either in-house or as
contract research. All companies feel the need to stay in touch with the
latest research findings. Fourthly, pressure has increased on breeding
companies to come up with varieties that have better pest and disease
resistance, and thus need less pesticides. As a result of the restructuring
proces the potato breeding companies will become stronger and more
influential in the potato product chain as a whole.
4. Applications of transgenic potatoes.
Two kinds of transgenic potatoes can be distinguished: those with a
better resistance to pests and diseases, and those with improved
characteristics for storage and processing.
All important potato pests and diseases are subject to genetic
engineering research: diseases and loss caused by nematodes, viruses,
fungi, bacteria, insects and herbicides. Although several of these pests
and diseases are not a major threat to potato cultivation in the
Netherlands, they are important because of the large export of seed
potatoes. For instance, Dutch seed potatoes exported to Meditarrenean
countries are faced with (sub)tropical diseases endemic in these countries.
In the Netherlands the first genetically modified potatoes have been
virus resistant potatoes. Transgenic potatoes with resistance to Potato
Virus X (PVX) will be ready for commercial introduction within a few years.
Currently these potatoes are subject to cultivation tests. Genetic
engineering research on resistance to nematodes and fungi - the two most
important threats to the Dutch potato crop - is only in its infancy.
Commercial introduction of transgenic potatoes with improved resistance to
nematodes or fungi is not expected until the end of the century.
Transgenic potatoes with improved storage and processing
characteristics have already been developed in the Netherlands, and are now
subject to cultivation tests. In one kind of transgenic potatoes the starch
content has been changed. This amylose-free potato may make the industrial
starch processing more efficient. Another kind of transgenic potatoes has
been made less vulnerable to bruising, in order to reduce the loss of raw
material during storage, transport and processing. In Denmark research on
transgenic potatoes is directed at improving cold resistance. Potatoes with
a better cold resistance can be stored at lower temperatures and therefore
need less chemicals for restraining sprout growth. In other countries
genetic engineering research is directed at enhancing the starch content.
5. Economic aspects of transgenic potatoes
Because both the efficacy and the price of transgenic potatoes are
still unknown, it is difficult to make a quantitative assessment of the
economic impact. However, it is already evident that genetic engineering
research requires potato breeders to increase their investments in R&D.
Whether and when these investments will yield profits it still very
uncertain. Thus, the need to do this kind of investment furthers the proces
of concentration among breeding companies. Return on investment in genetic
engineering research is also dependent on the system of intellectual
property protection. Both nationally and internationally current systems of
plant breeding rights are under discussion.
For potato farmers the introduction of transgenic potatoes with
improved disease resistance may lead to a shift in variable costs: lower
costs for pesticides but higher costs for starting material.
Transgenic potatoes with improved storage or processing characteristics may
earn higher prices for potato farmers, while here, too, the starting
material may be more expensive. However, the economic impact can only be
stated in hypothetical terms.
The introduction of transgenic potatoes will reinforce the vertical
integration in the potato chain. Transgenic potato varieties will only be
grown under approval from the customer (trading firm, processing company,
retailer or consumer). Approval will only be given if the transgenic
variety holds an evident qualitative improvement compared to non-modified
varieties. Qualitative improvements can concern the characteristics of both
the product and the production process (for instance the environmental
impact). The need for approval strengthens the integration between
different stages of the product chain.
6. Public acceptance
Whether transgenic potato varieties will be grown depends foremost on
the attitude of the public (or consumer). For consumer acceptance many
aspects are of concern, while safety for human consumption and
environmental impact are the most important. For these aspects no definite
answer can be given, thus leading to a reserved attitude by the consumer
and the public at large.
Public attitudes towards biotechnolgy have been studied in various
countries, as well as in the European Community as a whole. Most studies
showed that transgenic crops are valued moderately positive. Of course, the
sine qua non is safety for human consumption and no negative environmental
effects. There seems to be a clear difference in risk perception of
transgenic food products between various EC countries. Because Dutch
potatoes are exported to almost all other EC member states, public attitude
in all these countries is important for the Dutch potato industry.
In an EC study on public attitude towards biotechnology it was shown
that most people consider environmental and consumer organisations as the
most trust worthy sources of information on the impact of biotechnology.
Concerning transgenic potatoes in the Netherlands the environmental
organisations are the most critical. They favor a restrained approach
because it is still uncertain what the (long term) environmental impact
will be. Consumer organisations stress the importance of sufficient
information for the consumer. Therefore they favor compulsary labelling.
In order to achieve broad acceptance of transgenic agricultural
products a dialogue must be set up between proponents and critics of
genetically modified food crops. In this dialogue the parties involved must
listen to and respect each others arguments. Only this way some consensus
may be reached on what applications of genetic engineering holds benefits
for all groups in society. Concerning transgenic potatoes this implies that
biotechnology firms and the potato business on the one hand and
environmental and consumer organisations on the other hand must enter a
dialoque to discuss which transgenic potatoes should be developed and
So far the development of genetically modified potatoes has mainly
been determined by the feasability from a technological point of view. The
commercial introduction, however, will also be determined by other
structural developments in the potato industry. One of the major structural
developments is horizontal and vertical integration in the potato industry.
In the sale of potatoes and potato products more emphasis is placed on
quality and environmental aspects. Transgenic potatoes will only be
accepted by consumers if they hold evident qualitative improvements that
are beneficial for all.
If you want to respond, comment or react, you can do so by e-mailing me.
| Hans Rutten (Agricultural Economist) | E-mail: J.M.RUTTEN@LEI.AGRO.NL |
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