GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are back in the news with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent approval of Simplot’s new potato – the Innate. Simplot has inserted additional fragments of the potato’s own DNA – nothing from bacteria or other organisms. You’d think this would reduce the “ick factor” that bedevils other GMOs. The new potato offers advantages to the consumer, not just to farmers and seed companies, so perhaps it has a better chance of being accepted that other GMOs.
Simplot began selling precut frozen French fries and hashbrowns to fast-food chains back in the 1950s, but they want to create a new consumer product: the fresh pre-cut potato. Unlike most potatoes that turn brown quickly, the Innate stays fresh and white much longer. Whether consumers will embrace this new convenience, and pay a bit more for it, will determine if Innate succeeds.
Another happy outcome is that Innate produces less acrylamide. Acrylamide has been shown to increase the risk of cancer in lab rats and mice, but studies in humans so far have not shown a clear increase in cancer risk in humans. One of Simplot’s biggest customers will not take advantage of the change:
“‘McDonald’s USA does not source GMO potatoes, nor do we have current plans to change our sourcing practice,’ a company spokesperson” said.
The Mother Jones article rings true:
“When you think about it, that cautious attitude makes perfect sense. McDonald’s has been beset by declining sales and questions about the quality of its food. Its customers don’t care about the Innate’s anti-browning quality because they buy their fries cooked. The only potential sales pitch would involve the lower dose of acrylamides. But saying ‘Our new fries might be less carcinogenic than the ones we’ve been selling you for 50 years’ doesn’t have much of a ring to it.”
I also ran across some commercial information on a website supported, in part, by the European Union. Innate isn’t mentioned, but French fries are not the potato’s biggest market:
“Only one in four potatoes grown in Europe actually gets eaten by people. Almost half end up being fed to livestock. The remaining one quarter are used as raw material in the production of alcohol and starch.”
It seems “sticky starch” is used as paste, glue, or lubricant. Currently, the different forms of starch found in a potato must be separated, so plant breeders are working to develop potatoes that produce only one type. More GMO potatoes are doubtless on their way.
Reducing a chemical (a natural chemical found in all potatoes) that may-or-may-not cause cancer seems like a small gain. And, personally, I don’t find cutting my own potatoes a big imposition. But on this blog, we’ve offered cautious support for GMOs and I don’t see Innate as changing that position. We’ll keep watching.
Read more on GMOs here:
GMO labeling 2
GMO labeling 1
GMOs Food Safety and Golden Rice
GMOs Science and Morality
GMOs vs Hybrids