GRN Reports

Advocates for a more natural food system today hailed a signal from Mickey Ds that it won’t be buying the latest approved genetically-engineered veggie, in this case a potato created by spud king J.R. Simplot.

Simplot_Innate_Bruise_ComparisonThis is big news considering the potato was developed to suppress the acrylamide (which is considered a probable carcinogen) that is produced when starchy foods, like white potatoes, are deep fried.

And no one fries more taters than McDonalds. You can practically smell them before you even spot the Golden Arches. Yet the fast food giant apparently is headed for thumbs down on this one.

Even though the new tater is billed as being an “anti-cancer” food, McDonalds likely perceives that it’s also troublingly genetically modified. And the fast food giant wants to avoid getting battered and fried in the battle over genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“McDonald’s USA does not source GMO potatoes, nor do we have current plans to change our sourcing practice,” a company spokesperson has said to various news outlets, including Mother Jones.

People aren’t keen on GM or GE foods, because the health ramifications haven’t been well studied, says Kate Fried, Policy Communications Director for Food & Water Watch, one of many groups that’s been fighting GE agriculture.

“The reason why this is a victory for consumers is that GMO potatoes have not been proven safe,” she told us. “They’re problematic in the same way that all GMO foods are in that they’re largely untested, are often grown with large amounts of chemicals and could threaten organic agriculture.”

The new GM potatoes aren’t actually grown with a lot of pesticides, necessarily. But they have been approved by a regulatory system that’s approved a variety of genetically modified foods, from corn, soybeans and beans, to papaya and crook neck squash (though most produce remains unadulterated).

Genetic modification of row crops has been blamed for mounting use of RoundUp and other pesticides, as big seed and chemical companies like Monsanto and Syngenta genetically modify seeds to withstand a pummeling by certain pesticides (their pesticides). This type of ag was developed to increase yields, but has lately been backfiring with fields being overrun by “superweeds” that have grown resistant to the pesticides. In addition, new evidence has emerged that RoundUp is not much safer for the environment or humans than other older generation pesticides that killed wildlife and caused birth defects.

GM crops, meanwhile, have seeped into the food supply in dozens of ways, particularly through corn and soybeans, which are used as fillers in many processed foods and as feed for livestock. GE foods also turn up in places you don’t necessarily think much about, like the corn and soybean oil used to fry fast foods.

Some health advocates believe GE foods could be to blame for various health issues, from the rise in digestive maladies to cancer and obesity. The science is still out, but a growing segment of the public would like to see GM foods out of the picture, rather than serve as the human guinea pigs for a massive food experiment.

FWW’s gripe with the modified spuds boils down to questions about what happens overall to a vegetable when certain enzymes are repressed or removed, as they have been in this new designer potato known as the Innate. By tinkering with the enzymes Simplot has created a potato that will not brown (much) and will produce less acrylamide when fried. It’s innately different, get it?

Here’s FWW’s problem with that:

“Both of the desired traits are achieved through the reduced expression of enzymes, affecting the amino acid asparagine for the low acrylamide trait and the enzyme polyphenol oxidase (PPO) for reduced bruising (the same way GE apples have been engineered not to brown). The problem is that an alteration in just one enzyme can unintentionally affect other plant characteristics as well as the plant’s health.”

The group is also concerned that these spuds will be fried and presented as “healthier” when that may not be the case.

“A low-acrylamide potato may reduce levels of just one of the harmful chemicals brought out by frying foods but there are other dangerous compounds that are produced when food is heated to very high temperatures, including advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs), which can lead to to “chronic inflammation and oxidative stress,” (also linked to cancer). And of course this new fried ‘goodness’ doesn’t address the high-calorie and low-nutrient content that make fried potatoes unhealthy in the first place.”

Simplot, based in Idaho, attests that the potato is safe to eat. This spuds also supposed to have a longer shelf life and it’s less easily bruised. The potato won approval from the USDA just last week, after years of field trials in several states.

Some who’ve assessed the Innate potato see it as different from other GM foods, because it was developed without transgenic breeding (using genes from another species) nor was it developed to withstand additional pesticides (which is not to say that potatoes aren’t grown with pesticides, they are grown predominantly with pesticides).

The potato was created to withstand the bumps of the road and to work better for processing, by not browning, and shove the acrylamide spectre out of the picture.