Better GM Potato Ready, But Spud Police Dawdle

By Ruth Kava — Nov 03, 2015
JR Simplot has introduced a GM potato that resists bruising and helps limit acrylamide when cooked at high temperature. Now the company has produced another landmark spud -- which is even better. But over-regulation will be keeping it from getting to your table anytime soon.
Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 12.06.25 PM Potatoes via Shutterstock

As we've discussed before (both here and here), the JR Simplot Company has introduced a genetically engineered potato (which it has labeled "Innate") that resists bruising and is less likely to give rise to acrylamide (a supposed carcinogen) when cooked at high temperature. Now the company has produced another landmark potato Innate #2 which is even better.

Innate #2 not only has the benefits of its predecessor, it's also resistant to "late blight." To avoid this disease, farmers must use fungicides to kill off the causal fungus. It makes sense that they would be interested in reducing the amounts of pesticides they have to buy and use.

This new Innate potato was produced by a Simplot scientist by taking a gene from a potato grown in the Andes Mountains that confers resistance to the late blight, and inserting it into the Innate potato's genome. And voila, we have a blight- and bruise-resistant potato that produces less acrylamide.

But the problem is, as Dr. Henry Miller points out in his Wall St. Journal opinion piece, that farmers (and consumers, by extension) will have to wait quite a while for access to this latest variety. This snag is due to the necessity for multiple regulators to first declare that Innate #2 has passed muster.

First, the USDA OK'd the potato after a 17 month-long review. But now the EPA and FDA also have to weigh in, the first to ensure that the potato which contains only potato genes isn't actually a pesticide. And the FDA, which has been reviewing it since April 2014, must ensure that the potato is "safe."

So after all this reviewing and re-reviewing is completed, hopefully our farmers will be able to avoid late blight without the use of tons of pesticides. But don't hold your breath until that happens.

It's sad to think that such agricultural innovation can be stymied by over-regulation, but because of agitation by anti-genetic engineering activists, these are the time- and money- intensive hoops companies must jump through to bring these new varieties to market.