In what could prove a real test of benefits vs. fear, the USDA in November approved a potato variety that J.R. Simplot Co. genetically engineered to produce less acrylamide, a suspected human carcinogen created during frying. McDonald's Corp., a big potato customer of Simplot, already said it will not use it.
"The J.R. Simplot Company is pleased that the USDA has deregulated Innate potatoes, enabling them to be sold in the United States," said a company statement. "This approval comes after a decade of scientific development, safety assessments and extensive field tests. Innate potatoes contain genes from wild and cultivated potatoes, grow naturally just like conventional potatoes, and introduce no new allergens. Simplot is looking forward to the completion of the FDA review process before Innate is introduced into the marketplace in limited test markets in the spring."
Simplot said elsewhere on its website that no non-potato DNA was introduced into the Innate potato.
Innate potatoes are 40 percent less susceptible to bruising caused by impact and pressure during harvest and storage than conventional potatoes. They also have lower levels of asparagine, an amino acid that reacts with sugars to produce acrylamide when heated to high temperatures – such as in making french fries.
"With full market penetration … in the U.S., Innate will reduce annual potato waste by an estimated 400 million lbs. in the foodservice and retail industries and a significant portion of the estimated 3 billion lbs. discarded by consumers," the company statement continued. "For these reasons, we believe Innate potatoes will be a more sustainable option when compared to their conventional varieties and will provide a healthy choice for consumers."
Simplot expects to license the potatoes to select partners for test markets in 2015.
But several media reported a McDonald statement that said: "McDonald's USA does not source GMO potatoes, nor do we have current plans to change our sourcing practices." At least one medium credited that to the Idaho Statesman newspaper.
Simplot is a major supplier of french fries, hash browns and other potato products for restaurant chains like McDonald's.
ABC News and Associated Press reported this isn't the first time the fast-food industry has resisted GMO potatoes. More than a decade ago, Monsanto brought its bug-resistant "New Leaf" line of genetically modified potato to market. Buyers rejected it and Monsanto pulled it from production due to lack of business.