The federal government has given the final OK to three more types of potatoes genetically engineered by Boise’s J.R. Simplot Co. to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine. They are safe for the environment and safe to eat, officials announced.
The approvals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration last month mean Simplot is free to plant the potatoes this spring and sell them in the fall.
The approvals apply to Simplot’s second generation of its Innate line of potatoes. The first generation already is sold in stores under the White Russet label.
The company said the latest varities will have less bruising and fewer black spots, enhanced cold-storage capacity and a lower amount of a potentially carcinogenic chemical that is created when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures.
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Conventional potatoes can turn a dark color when cooked after they have been kept cold for too long, another problem the new varieties reduce, the company said.
Simplot also said the enhanced cold storage will likely have significant benefit to the potato-chip industry by reducing trucking costs.
The first generation did not include protection from late blight or enhanced cold storage.
There is no evidence that genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, are unsafe to eat, but changing the genetic code of foods presents an ethical issue for some people and a potential marketing problem. McDonald’s declines to use Simplot’s genetically engineered potatoes for its French fries.
The genetically modified Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet and Atlantic potatoes were approved previously by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They “have the same taste and texture and nutritional qualities” as conventional potatoes, Simplot spokesman Doug Cole said.
The company said the potatoes contain only potato genes, not genes from other organisms, and that the resistance to late blight, the disease that caused the Irish potato famine, comes from an Argentine variety of potato that naturally produced a defense.
Potatoes are considered the fourth food staple crop in the world behind corn, rice and wheat. Late blight, which rotted entire crops and led to the deaths of about a million Irish in the 1840s, is still a major problem for potato growers, especially in wetter regions.
Fungicides have been used for decades to prevent the blight. Simplot says the genetically engineered potatoes reduce the use of fungicide by half.
The Non-GMO Project, which opposes GMOs and verifies non-GMO food and products, said the new potatoes don’t qualify as non-GMO.
“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,” the Washington state-based group said in a statement.
Simplot is working on a third generation of Innate potatoes that Cole said will have protections against additional strains of late blight.
Cole said the company hasn’t decided how it will market the newest potatoes.
The Idaho Statesman contributed.