(NaturalNews) In November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted approval to biotech company Simplot’s “Innate” variety of genetically modified (GM) potatoes. Yet in response to campaigns by GMO critics, both Frito-Lay and McDonald’s have pledged not to use GM potatoes.
“McDonald’s USA does not source GMO potatoes, nor do we have current plans to change our sourcing practice,” a company spokesperson said.
“This GM potato appears to be yet another GMO white elephant,” wrote Claire Robinson on the website GMWatch. “Not only does nobody want to buy it… but nobody needs it either.”
The Innate potato has been genetically engineered to block the activity of genes that lead to bruising and to the production of an amino acid known as asparagine. This is intended to provide two separate benefits: Less bruising would mean less food waste for U.S. supermarkets, which waste $15 billion worth of food each year, much of it edible food discarded for purely cosmetic reasons.
The reduction in asparagine is because, upon being cooked at high heat, asparagine turns into acrylamide, a chemical which has been linked to cancer. This is meant to be marketed as a health benefit to consumers.
Yet as Robinson notes, both of these genetic modifications are completely unnecessary. Regarding the issues of bruising, she notes that many bruise-resistant potato varieties have already been developed through conventional breeding (Robinson does not mention the equally strong critique that food waste could be solved by changing food distribution practices, not tampering with the genome of our food crops).
Conventionally bred potato varieties also vary widely in their acrylamide content, Robinson notes. Studies have shown that asparagine levels in fresh potatoes range from a low of 1.17 mmol/kg in some varieties of Agata potatoes to a high of 57.65 mmol/kg in some varieties of Russets.
The “Innate” GM potato is a variety of Russet, the preferred potato for making French fries and potato chips, and the variety of potato also highest in asparagine. Yet as Robinson notes, lower asparagine varieties of Russet also exist — such as the conventionally bred Teton Russet, which is also exceptionally high in vitamin C and protein.
In addition, asparagine levels in fresh potatoes may not actually be the main factor that determines the final acrylamide content of fried potatoes. Evidence suggests that much of the acrylamide that ends up in food may actually come from agricultural practices. Acrylamide is an ingredient in many herbicides, added to make them less likely to drift away and more likely to be absorbed by plants. It is also an ingredient in the substance polyacrylamide, which is added to degraded soils (a common problem with industrial farms) to keep them from blowing away.
Both of these practices are banned in organic agriculture.
So why is Simplot pushing ahead with efforts to market the GM potato? Robinson offers a simple explanation: “Apparently the only unique selling point is that it’s GM and therefore more easily patented in more countries than the non-GM versions.”
Conventional techniques still superior
The Simplot potato is only the latest in a long line of GM crops that promise benefits that could be delivered by conventional breeding techniques. Late in 2014, researchers from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico City reported that conventional breeding techniques were delivering great results in developing crop strains that can be grown in marginal conditions, but genetic engineering had yet to deliver a single variety.
In December, researchers from the Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland, announced that they had used conventional breeding techniques to produce potatoes exceptionally high in antioxidants, including anthocyanins.
“The development of purple anthocyanin-rich non-GM potatoes will make Prof Cathie Martin’s anthocyanin-rich GM tomato all the more unlikely to be welcomed by the food industry and consumers,” commented GMWatch.