A demonstration field of a new potato, genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine, at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. (J.R. Simplot Co. via AP/Thinkstock)
Scientists make a better potato
January 21, 2016
A potato genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine is as safe as any other potato on the market. This is according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The Irish famine was between 1845 and 1852. The famine caused about a million deaths.
In a letter to Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co., the FDA said the potato isn't substantially different in composition or safety from other products already on the market. It doesn't raise any issues that would require the agency to do more strict premarket research.
"We're pleased. And hope that consumers recognize the benefits once it's introduced into the marketplace next year," said Doug Cole. He is the company's director of marketing and communications.
Before the potato is marketed to consumers, it must be cleared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Cole said. That's expected to happen in December.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the potato in August.
The Russet Burbank Generation 2 is the second generation of Simplot's "Innate" brand potatoes. It includes the first version's reduced bruising. But it also has less of a chemical produced at high temperatures. Some studies have shown it can cause cancer.
The second-generation potato also includes an additional trait. The company says it will allow potatoes to be stored at colder temperatures longer. That will reduce food waste.
Haven Baker is vice president of plant sciences at Simplot. The executive said late blight remains the No. 1 pathogen for potatoes around the world. It was the cause of the Irish potato famine.
"This will bring 24-hour protection to farmers' fields. And, in addition, has the potential to reduce pesticide spray by 25 to 45 percent," Baker said.
The late blight resistance comes from an Argentinian variety of potato. It naturally produced a defense.
"There are 4,000 species of potatoes," Baker said. "There is an immense library to help us improve this great food. By introducing these potato genes, we can bring sustainability and consumer benefits."
The company has already been selling its first generation of Innate potatoes to consumers. Its 2014 crop was sold out. The company is now selling the 2015 crop of about 2,000 acres.
Cole said those potatoes were mostly grown in Idaho and Wisconsin. They are being sold in supermarkets across the nation.
But one of the company's oldest business partners, McDonald's, has rejected using any of Simplot's genetically engineered potatoes.
Cole said the company plans to introduce the potatoes to other restaurants and hotel convention centers as precut and pre-peeled potatoes. He said the resistance to bruising makes them a good product.
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why must the potato be cleared by the Environmental Protection Agency?
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