BRUSSELS - The European Commission on Tuesday approved the cultivation of genetically-modified potatoes, but environmentalists and some European ministers slammed the so-called "frankenfoods".
The first approval of genetically modified foods in Europe for 12 years was criticised by the Friends of the Earth group and others as a threat to human health, though the potatoes will not be for human consumption.
"This is a bad day for European citizens and the environment," Friends of the Earth said of the green light given for the Amflora potato to be developed by German chemical giant BASF.
The EU Commission also allowed three GM maize products to be placed on the European market, though not grown in Europe.
Modified vegetables and cereals have long been a matter of fierce debate in Europe and the commission stressed that the Amflora would only be for "industrial use" including animal feed.
"We are against the decision taken today by the European Commission," Italian Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia said in a statement.
Prior the potato, only MON 810, a strain of genetically modified maize made by Monsanto, has been authorised for cultivation in Europe since 1998.
The EU Commission said its latest decision was "based on a considerable volume of sound science".
"Responsible innovation will be my guiding principle when dealing with innovative technologies," EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli assured.
"After an extensive and thorough review of the five pending GM files, it became clear to me that there were no new scientific issues that merited further assessment," he added.
The EU's food safety agency has said the potato is safe for all uses. It is designed to produce industrial starch for use in areas such as paper making.
Amflora is also modified to produce pure amylopectin starch in technical applications.
Conventional potatoes produce a mixture of amylopectin and amylose starch.
But the potato also contains a marker gene resistant to antibiotics, fuelling environmentalists' fears over the risks of contamination for non GMO varieties.
Friends of the Earth said the Amflora potato "carries a controversial antibiotic resistant gene which it cannot be guaranteed will not enter the food chain."
"The new commissioner whose job is to protect consumers has in one of his first decisions ignored public opinion and safety concerns to please the worlds biggest chemical company," said Heike Moldenhauer, the group's GMO spokesperson.
The Greens party in the European parliament said they were "shocked."
Approval of the GMO potato "flies in the face of the 70 percent of consumers who are against GM food, as well as the anti-GM position of the European Parliament," said German Green MEP Martin Hausling.
EU health commissioner Dalli stressed that the GM potatoes would be cultivated at a distance from ordinary crops.
BASF, on its website, said it was "delighted" by the decision "after waiting for more than 13 years," for EU approval.
"We hope, that this decision is a milestone for further innovative products that will promote a competitive and sustainable agriculture in Europe," said board member Stefan Marcinowski.