Marketing a Better Potato, the GM Way

By Ana-Marija Dolaskie — Sep 23, 2015
Lovers of french fries, rejoice: the new, non-bruising potato has hit the market. The Idaho spud joins a list of GM products designed to appeal to the consumer. But will people put their GM taters (and bucks) where their mouths are? Read more.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 2.48.00 PMLovers of french fries, rejoice: the new, non-bruising potato has hit the market. Idaho food giant Simplot, based in Boise, now carries a line of genetically modified potatoes Russet Burbank, Atlantic, and Ranger Russet that are specifically bred to produce less bruising, thus helping Americans waste less. Hopefully.

The spuds have joined a growing list of GM crops, designed to appeal to consumers, that have added health and appearance benefits; other foods in this category are the non-browning GM Arctic apple, and a number of modified vegetable oils with fewer saturated fats and more Omega-3 fatty acids. Companies developing these new products hope they'll be able to win over skeptical or health-conscious consumers.

Simplot spent more than 14 years formulating the new potato varieties. The process is called "gene silencing," where scientists extract genes from cultivated potatoes and insert them in their target varieties. The new genes then mute the old genes that lead to bruising and browning. You can read the Council's in-depth publications on biotechnology here.

And here's a kicker for the organic foodie: The GM potato is considered healthier than the traditional potato, because gene silencing has also enabled the release of about 70 percent less acrylamide when the spuds are deep fried. Acrylamide is a chemical that forms in foods containing carbohydrates as a result of cooking at high temperatures. It is found in about 40 percent of the calories consumed by Americans and has been around for as long as people have been baking, roasting, toasting or frying foods. The unwarranted fear of many chemophobes is that the chemical is cancer-causing.

But actually, acrylamide is a neurotoxin not a carcinogen in high-exposure levels among occupationally-exposed workers, or those with extremely high dose exposures. It is not harmful in low doses when released from frying potatoes, so it would make sense that folks who tend to worry over any chemical they hear is in foods would applaud this development.

Will that be enough to tater, excuse us cater to the organic consumer? We'd like to think so, but probably not.