The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given J.R. Simplot Co. (Simplot), one of the world’s largest agribusiness companies, the green light to sell a potato genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish Potato Famine.
FDA determined Simplot’s second-generation Innate potato, the Russet Burbank Generation 2 (RBG2), isn’t different in composition or safety from other products on the market and does not require further premarket vetting. Before selling the new genetically modified potato, the company must receive approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Henry I. Miller, the Robert Wesson fellow in scientific philosophy and public policy at the Hoover Institution, says he doesn’t expect EPA to prevent Simplot’s new product from hitting the market, but given EPA’s history, Miller says anything is possible.
“On the merits, Innate should sail through, but given that it’s EPA—chronically incompetent, politicized, and corrupt—who knows?” Miller said.
The benefits of RBG2 include reduced bruising and black spots; resistance to late blight pathogens; and enhanced cold storage capability.
The resistance to late blight, the pathogen responsible for the Irish Potato Famine, can result in using 25–45 percent less fungicide annually to control blight, Simplot reports.
Beginning in the 1840s, 1.5 million Irish citizens emigrated to North America and England to escape the starvation caused in large part by the destruction of millions of pounds of potatoes by late blight. The Irish Potato Famine claimed more than one million lives.
“The only alternative to genetic improvement of potatoes to resist the late blight pathogen is the spraying of chemical fungicides,” said Miller.
Simplot also included a genetic trait allowing the second generation potato to be stored at cooler temperatures for a longer period, reducing food waste.
According to a statement released by Simplot, “Based on … academic estimates, if all Russet Burbank potatoes in the United States had Innate Gen. 2 traits, it is estimated that potato waste (in-field, during storage, packing, retail and foodservice for fresh potatoes) could be reduced by 986 million pounds. In addition, carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by 146 million pounds, water usage reduced by 17 billion gallons, and a total of 495,000 fewer pesticide acre-applications would be needed.”
“Activists’ opposition to the Innate potatoes, the second generation of which boast environmental and human health benefits and also represents an advance in sustainability, illustrates the cynicism and dishonesty of activists.” Miller said.
Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.