USDA OKs Genetically-Engineered Spuds

Published January 4, 2017

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved two types of genetically engineered potatoes that resist the pathogens which caused the Irish potato famine.

J.R. Simplot Co., the company that developed the potatoes, says in addition to resisting the potato famine pathogen, its ranger russet and Atlantic varieties are also designed to be less likely to bruise and develop black spots, and will last longer without rotting when stored. The genetically modified potatoes will also produce less acrylamide, a chemical suspected to cause cancer in humans. When cooked at high temperatures, potatoes naturally produce acrylamide.

Before the potato varieties are available for sale on store shelves on for use in restaurants, they must still be approved by the Food and Drug Administration and undergo a final review by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If all goes well, approvals could occur in in January, according to the company, and the potatoes could be on the market by next spring.

Simplot is a major supplier of french fries, hash browns, and other potato products for McDonalds and other restaurant chains.

Potential Benefits for Growers

John Keeling, CEO of the National Potato Council, told the Fruit Grower Report the potatoes approval is good news.

“You know, they offer some promise for improvements in both the potato, in terms of durability and reduction of bruises, as well as potential for different storage characteristics as well reducing some of the pressure from Light Blight,” Keeling said to the Fruit Grower Report. “And just like any kind of technology, we support farmers’ access to those technologies when they’ve been proven safe.

“And the USDA regulatory process has taken a look at these and found, based in the characteristics, that they are safe for the environment,” said Keeling.

Keeling said potato growers could benefit as well as consumers.

“Well, I think there is potential benefit for growers all across the country,” Keeling said. “Certainly Light Blight hasn’t been as big an issue in Washington as it might have been in other places, but storage characteristics and other things can be very valuable to any growers.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.