Scientists make a better potato 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
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A potato genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine is as safe as any other potato on the market, the Food and Drug Administration says.
 
The potato famine struck Ireland between 1845 and 1852, and about a million people died.
 
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, and it doesn't raise any issues that would require the agency to do more stringent premarket vetting.
 
"We're pleased and hope that consumers recognize the benefits once it's introduced into the marketplace next year," Doug Cole, the company's director of marketing and communications, said.
 
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 less of a chemical produced at high temperatures that some studies have shown can cause cancer.
 
The second-generation potato also includes an additional trait that the company says will allow potatoes to be stored at colder temperatures longer to reduce food waste.
 
Haven Baker, vice president of plant sciences at Simplot, said late blight -- the cause of the Irish potato famine -- remains the No. 1 pathogen for potatoes around the world.
 
"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 that 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, selling out its 2014 crop and currently selling the 2015 crop of about 2,000 acres.
 
Cole said those potatoes were mostly grown in Idaho and Wisconsin, and 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, where 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?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (4)
  • mirandaf-pay
    1/27/2016 - 10:47 a.m.

    Honestly, there's not much need to improve the potato; they're already great. And usually, I'm against GMO's but truthfully, it's pretty useful that these potatoes can now avoid famine and dangerous pathogens.

  • robertj-pay
    1/27/2016 - 11:06 a.m.

    The potato must be cleared by the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) because as this is a new strain of plants their effect on the environment is unknown and if it must be tested first to see if it can damage the soil or damage other environmental elements.

  • tishelh-pay
    1/27/2016 - 11:14 a.m.

    It must be cleared by the environmental protection agency to make sure that it does not negatively affect the earth or the people that are eating them

  • jennaw-lam
    3/11/2016 - 10:46 a.m.

    I think that is it very good they have developed a potato that is able to resist this disease. I think it is odd that McDonald's is refusing to use this potato, when their chicken nuggets are made of pink slime, although I understand the concern for health effects of the potato. I would be a little worried about eating this potato because it does contain a chemical that can cause cancer.

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