If you fear another Irish potato famine impeding on your super-sized fries, fear no more: USDA has just approved a GMO potato genetically modified to resist the disease.
While blights on the level of the Irish potato famine are rare, the pathogen still damages crops around the world, which prompted the Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co. to engineer GMO potatoes resistant to the disease.
"For historical reasons and current agriculture reasons, this is an important milestone," Haven Baker, vice president of plant sciences at Simplot told the Associated Press. "The Irish potato famine did change a lot of Western history. Even today — a 160 years later — late blight is a $5 billion problem for the global potato industry."
The approval of the Russet Burbank marks the second USDA approved genetically modified potato from the Simplot. The first generation of the Innate potato variety is prone to less bruising and produces less acrylamide when cooked at high temperatures, which has been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
In addition to fighting off the Irish potato famine pathogen, the genetically modified potatoes will also be able to withstand storage at colder than normal temperatures, a trait the company says can help to reduce the world’s growing food waste problem.
Genetic modification is often criticized for the practice of introducing genes from other species into a crop, but Simplot says the genes added to the potato come from an Argentinian potato variety that has produced a defense against the blight on its own.
"It's potato genes in the potato," he said. "There are clear benefits for everybody, and it's just a potato."
But that assurance isn’t likely to improve consumer outlook on genetically modified foods—and McDonald’s, one of Simplot’s longest running customers, has already rejected the first GMO potato introduced by Simplot. It’s expected to take a similar position on the Russet Burbank.
Simplot says it’s turning its focus to supermarkets. "Our focus is on the fresh market for the coming year," Baker told the AP. "We think the benefits are clear. We've got customers and it's a place that we're excited to be. To some degree I think we need to prove that consumers are willing to buy White Russets, and they know what they are and that they see the benefits. Then I think the other parts of the industry will come."
The potatoes now must gain approval from the FDA and EPA before they can be introduced into the market for consumption.
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GMO potato image via Shutterstock