USDA seeks comments on GMO potato status

05/09/2013 12:41:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

Boise, Idaho-based J.R. Simplot has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove regulations on its genetically modified potato varieties because no non-potato genes were involved.

On May 3, the USDA published a Federal Register notice opening a 60-day comment period on J.R. Simplot’s petition for non-regulatory status.

After the period closes, the USDA will review the comments and issue an environmental assessment, which will undergo another 30-day comment period before the agency issues its final decision.

Innate russet burbank potatoCourtesy J.R. SimplotThe genetically modified Innate russet burbank potato can't be told apart visually from a conventional russet burbank.The potato varieties bred by Simplot Plant Sciences have less of the possible carcinogen acrylamide, less bruising and reduced darkening when sliced, said Haven Baker, vice president of plant sciences.

At the same time, varieties developed using the Innate Technology, as the Boise, Idaho-company calls its patented approach, showed no significant difference in nationwide field trials or taste tests compared with non-genetically modified counterparts, he said

At the National Potato Council’s annual meeting in January 2012, in Orlando, delegates approved a biotetchnology policy that stated they support “technology and scientific advancements to improve its products, enhance food safety and reduce the environmental footprint of the industry.”

They also acknowledged that some governments and customers may be reluctant to accept the technology.

As a result, they recommended that all developers and marketers manage the varieties to avoid market disruptions.

The delegates also recommended that developers and marketers adopt identify preservation systems. But they didn’t go so far as to recommend the potatoes be labeled at the consumer level.

John Keeling, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based NPC, said the Food and Drug Administration continues to study the acrylamide issue. But based on current scientific knowledge, he said consumers shouldn’t change their potato consumption patterns.

“It’s under study, and it’s something that people want to figure out whether there are impacts on human health,” he said. “It’s a possible carcinogen in lab rats, but we don’t know what happens in the human gut and what impacts it has on humans.”

Innate Technology involves inserting genes from potatoes that quiet specific functions, such as bruising or asparagine production.

Asparagine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in potatoes. When mixed with sugars ― such as those also found naturally in potatoes ― and then subjected to high temperatures, asparagine forms acrylamide.

Those high temperatures may occur during frying, baking or roasting.

Acrylamide also is found in other foods, such as roasted coffee, cereals, breads and many baked goods.

During the past decade, the compound has come under scrutiny as a possible carcinogen.

Acrylamide production can be reduced to some extent by potato variety selection, cultural practices in the field, storage practices and cooking temperatures, Baker said.

By adding the Innate technology, he said acrylamide levels could be reduced an additional 50%-80%, which would bring them under the target.

The first three varieties scheduled for release are russet burbank, a baking potato; ranger russet, a french fry variety; and atlantic, a chipping variety.

J.R. Simplot hopes to have USDA approval by 2014, which would allow it to have a limited amount of Innate potatoes on the market by 2015, Baker said.

In years to come, the company plans to release snowden, yukon, pike and russet norkotah varieties with the reduced black spot/acrylamide traits.

Although the details are still in the works, Baker said J.R. Simplot would develop an identity preservation plan so Innate potatoes would not be commingled with conventional varieties during growing or packing.

The company also is looking at potential in the retail potato arena, he said.

“We’re open to a number of commercialization possibilities,” Baker said.

The same gene responsible for black spot bruising during harvest and storage also causes browning when potatoes are sliced during food preparation.

Only about 50%-60% of a potato crop grades as USDA #1, depending on the year and storage length. But with the Innate Technology, downgrades caused by bruising could be reduced by 10%-15%, Baker said.

The benefits also would carry through to retailers, with reduced shrinkage from having to toss bruised potatoes, he said.



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Dr. Richard Lasker    
Spokane WA  |  May, 15, 2013 at 01:38 PM

"... no significant difference in nationwide field trials or taste tests compared with non-genetically modified counterparts..." When did the safety and health of the people of the United States get judged by yield trials and taste? When did science, consumer safety and independent analysis all become non-issues? When did corporate profits become the deciding factor in our food safety? Ridiculous. We have become a nation of greedy, self-centered, cancer causing hucksters. Thanks Reagan.

Leona Shemza    
Los Angeles, CA  |  June, 09, 2013 at 12:17 AM

Well ok who cares if it causes cancer just as long as they still taste good, thats really what matters to me too. I think you should also charge more for potatoes with acrylamide its only fair if I'll be getting more bang for my buck a potatoe and a side of cancer - Cool!

Rosalie Popick    
Harwinton CT  |  September, 27, 2013 at 11:35 AM

Within the past 2 years, only "huge" potatoes, all varieties, are available to purchase in the local chain stores; they taste terrible, unlike the smaller ones of years ago. Re conversation with produce worker this past Wednesday, they are GMO produced. Is this true? And, where can I purchase potatoes as I did in previous years that taste like they did in the "olden days" - in my area of CT? More recently, a variety of "huge" apples are being sold in the local stores, also not so tasty. Thank you.

Vicky Boyd, Editor    
California  |  September, 27, 2013 at 11:45 AM

There are NO GMO potatoes on the market right now. All of the potatoes currently available have been developed through traditional breeding techniques. That means no genetic engineering. That produce person was mistaken. The variety,weather, soil types, and other growing conditions determine whether an apple or potato will be large or small. With apples, it also depends on how much thinning a grower does. If you remove a lot of very small fruit early in the season, the tree's energy isn't as diluted so the fruit grows bigger. With potatoes, row spacing and the space between plants also influences size. If there's more space to grow, the tubers get larger.

Maryann Davis    
Thornville, Ohio  |  April, 22, 2014 at 02:27 PM

Market disruption should not be the major worry. Health and trust and informed choice should be. GMO food should ALWAYS be labeled at the consumer level. Who has more right to know? Most people probably would not want GMO food, if they knew what they were getting, but it has been forced on us by the deceptive practice of not labeling it. Business interests should have no bearing on our right to have the choice to consume real, not experimental, food. Nobody wants to be part of a field trial without their consent, but that is exactly what has been happening for many years, because these gmo foods have been being sold to us and our families with no labeling to indicate that they were any different from the foods that we have always eaten. Our food has been tampered with without our knowledge or consent, with no proof that it was ever safe to do so, and if it isn't safe, we and our families pay the cost in who knows how many yet-to-be discovered effects on our health. How and why was this ever allowed?

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