An announcement has been made stating that the three types of potatoes that are genetically engineered in order to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine are safe for the environment and safe to eat, according to federal officials. At the beginning of the month, the US Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration gave their approval for the new potato types, and gave their permission to Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co. to plant the potatoes during this coming spring, which will then be sold in the fall, according to reports.
The company has claimed that the potatoes contain only potato genes and are resistant to late blight, which is the disease that caused the Irish potato famine, due to an Argentine variety of potato that produces a defence naturally. Currently, there is no evidence that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are unsafe to consume, however, the issue for some is the changing of the genetic code in food.
The three new varieties of potato are the Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet and Atlantic, and have approval from the US Department of Agriculture. Simplot spokesman Doug Cole said, “They have the same taste and texture and nutritional qualities” as conventional potatoes. The company claims to have produced many benefits for the production of these potatoes, including reducing bruising and black spots, enhancing storage capacity and a lower amount of a chemical that’s a potential carcinogen and is created when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures. Conventional potatoes often turn a dark colour after they are cooked and then kept cold for too long, but this issue is not present in the new potatoes.
Following corn, rice and wheat- potatoes are considered the fourth staple crop in the world. During the 1840s, late blight rotted crops and led to the deaths of around a million Irish people, however, it is still a major problem for potato growers today. To prevent the blight, fungicides have been used for the past decades following the outbreak. The new genetically engineered potatoes will therefore reduce the use of fungicide by half, according to Simplot.
The Non-GMO Project, which opposes GMOs and verifies non-GMO food and products, have said that the new potatoes don’t qualify as non-GMO. The Washington state-based group said in a statement, “There is a growing attempt on the part of biotechnology companies to distance themselves from the consumer rejection of GMOs by claiming that new types of genetic engineering … are not actually genetic engineering.”
Simplot are currently working on a future generation of GMO potatoes which will have protections against additional strains of late blight in the future.
IMAGE CREDIT:bhofack2 / 123RF Stock Photo
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