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Three Types of GMO Potatoes Are Finally Here and as Usual, They Will Not Be Labeled

To the average consumer, GMO potatoes don’t look very different when sitting next to their organic counterparts. Although they may look identical, genetically modified foods can come along with unintended consequences and unknown effects on those who eat them. This is especially concerning since the FDA approved three new GMO potatoes in 2017. This begs the question: do you really know what you are eating?

GMO potatoes

The company behind these engineered potatoes assures consumers of their safety. However, many scientists and organizations take issue with genetically modified foods for a variety of reasons. Although they promise resistance to disease and fewer brown spots, genetically modified potatoes may not be safe to eat. A doctor that formerly helped engineer these potatoes is now speaking out against them. (1, 2)

The Newest GMO Potatoes

The Simplot Co. has a long history of being in the potato business. In the late 1920s, a young J. R. Simplot worked the Idaho ground to grow potatoes. In the 1960s, Simplot was the first to create a process for commercially cooking french fries. Many years later, the company has grown into a diverse billion-dollar company. They entered the GMO world in the mid-2010s with their Innate line of engineered potatoes. (3)

The newest GMO potatoes include the Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet, and Atlantic varieties. Using gene-editing technology, these tubers are engineered to have significantly less browning and lower levels of acrylamide–a potential carcinogen produced when frying potatoes. They’ve also been infused with blight-fighting genes, a protection against the disease of the 1840s’ Irish potato famine. According to Simplot, these new potatoes have the same taste, texture, and nutritional value as the non-GMO variety.

While Simplot states that its goal is to reduce waste and fungicide use among farmers, GMO products are still hotly debated. From ethical implications to a lack of real research on whether GMO foods are safe to eat, many currently work to stop food engineering from taking over the produce section. Interestingly, one criticism of Simplot’s potatoes comes from a doctor that once spent years of his life working for the company. (1)

The Hidden Dangers Of Engineered Food

Dr. Caius Rommens is a plant biologist and genetic engineer. He spent years helping Monsanto and J.R. Simplot’s firm develop thousands of different GMO potatoes. He developed the Innate potatoes by deliberating turning off two genes in the potato to reduce browning and asparagine, the substance that can cause acrylamide when fried. In 2018, Dr. Rommens published a book called Pandora’s Potatoes: The Worst GMOs to denounce the work he had done with Simplot.

Dr. Rommens notes a variety of problems with these new potatoes. One, editing their genes creates genetically unstable traits. Additionally, their lack of browning is actually a danger, not an advantage. They still bruise-like any potato but don’t show the darker color that would indicate it. These concealed bruises could be a source of toxins, though consumers would have no idea. Infections that are usually apparent by discoloration won’t be spotted, meaning that bacteria and fungi could flourish undetected.

While Simplot states that their engineered potatoes will produce fewer carcinogens when frying, levels of acrylamide in french fries are already very small. For acrylamide to be carcinogenic, there would have to be levels 1,000-10,000 times higher than frying produces. So yes, while the modified potatoes produce less acrylamide, this isn’t a health concern to begin with.

Dr. Rommens worries that the FDA and other regulators aren’t really considering the risks. As a biologist, his advice is to avoid consuming these potatoes. It’s safer to eat additional, organic varieties grown and eaten for thousands of years. While they may brown faster, they’re only following their natural biological process. This helps humans to make wise decisions on what safe and unsafe to eat–something that GMO varieties can’t promise. (1)

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