- USDA has approved the Russet Burbank, the second generation genetically-modified Innate potato from J.R. Simplot Co.
- The Russet Burbank has been engineered to resist the pathogen that led to the Irish potato famine, which still remains an issue today, damaging crops across the world. The potato can also be stored for longer at cooler temperatures to reduce food waste.
- The potato "includes the first generation's reduced bruising and a greater reduction in a chemical produced at high temperatures some studies have shown can cause cancer," Associated Press reported.
To make these modifications, Simplot silenced existing genes or added genes from other potatoes. The gene that makes the potato resistant to the Irish potato famine came from an Argentinian variety of potato that naturally puts up a defense against late blight. For this reason, the Russet Burbank's creators insist, "There are clear benefits for everybody, and it's just a potato," Haven Baker, vice president of plant sciences at Simplot, told Associated Press.
The first generation of Innate potatoes, called White Russets, sold out its 400 acres in grocery stores in 10 states across the Midwest and Southeast last summer.
The new Russet Burbank still needs approval from the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency. The company believes it will receive approval from both agencies within a year, and it would begin commercial planting in 2017. The potatoes would be ready for consumers that fall.
Though the potato's additional genes come from other potatoes, that may not be enough to ease the worries of consumers, celebrities, legislators, and health experts who believe genetically-modified foods of any kind are unsafe for consumption.
Non-GMO foods are on the rise in the U.S. and across the world and efforts to get products labeled as GMO or otherwise are mounting. In the U.S., a recent bill passed by the House could put an end to that debate, as it would allow voluntary rather than mandatory GMO labeling.
Last week, USDA became the target of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) over USDA's alleged failure to supply CFS with records on GMO crops, as requested.