January 23, 2018

GE Simplot Potato Approved by USDA

A new genetically engineered potato is going to enter the market soon. The potato is engineered to produce little or no acrylamide, a carcinogen, when cooked at high temperatures. The Simplot Potato is made using a new type of genetic engineering called RNA interference (RNAi). The potato was approved last week by the USDA.

PotatoesDoug Gurian-Sherman, Center for Food Safety‘s director of sustainable agriculture said in a statement, “we simply don’t know enough about RNA interference technology to determine whether GE crops developed with it are safe for people and the environment. If this is an attempt to giver crop biotechnology a more benign face, all it has really done is expose the inadequacies of the U.S. regulation of GE crops. These approvals are riddled with holes and are extremely worrisome.”

The EPA analyzed the RNAi method and concluded there were uncertainties about the potential risks from this new technology and that risk assessment procedures are not adequate. The USDA ignored those statements and approved the technology.

RNAi works by forcing the plant to silence expression of its genes, such as those responsible for enzymatic browning. Food safety advocates are concerned that these manipulations may turn down genes other than those that are targeted to change the characteristics of the food. Many genes have similar or identical stretches of DNA. The Simplot Potato has one of five polyphenol oxidase genes turned off. This prevents browning due to bruising. The potato also turns off genes affecting sugar production and asparagine (an amino acid) development, which prevents acrylamide production when cooked at high heat.

Because no labels are required on GE and GMO foods, consumers will not know if they are buying potatoes made with this new technology.

Nutritionists are also concerned about this potato, but for a different reason. Some are afraid that fast food facilities will market French fries as “healthy” because it will not contain as many carcinogens, even though this product remains high in fat and low in nutrients. In addition, the asparagine gene is important to the potato plant’s defense¬†against pathogens. The Simplot potato could need more fungicide during the growing process, which of course can lead to more human chemical exposure.

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