Who will buy GMO potatoes? Me.

Interesting article from NPR about a new strain of GMO potatoes that bruise less easily (read: less food waste) and produce less of a potentially harmful chemical.  The inserted modified genes are actually modified potato genes.  Sounds great.  But, to this point, major potato buyers (read: McDonald’s, Frito Lay, etc.) have chosen not to buy them over consumer fears of “GMO!”  (Meanwhile, of course, those companies sell dozens of products with GMO soy and corn).  I dug into the comments thread on this one a bit (always a scary place, but definitely less son on NPR) and the biggest complaint the opponents could come up with was “Monsanto!!”  For-profit companies trying to use new technologies to make a profit.  What horrible fate may befall us next?  Should we be careful and judicious with GMO food?  Of course?  There’s no evidence we have not been to this point.  The creator of the potato– Michigan State University– needs to get it approved by the FDA, like all the other GMO foods.  But the very fact that something is “GMO” is far too often a matter of knee-jerk opposition rather than actually considering how the product was modified, with what genes, the potential environmental impact, etc.  A careful analysis may suggest some GMO products are not worth it.  But I’ve yet to see that careful analysis from GMO opponents.

On a related note, the potato is a really fascinating source of food.  It yields a tremendous amount of calories for humans to eat for any given amount of land cultivated.  That’s why the Irish came to rely upon it so much.  This NPR article details why traditional methods of potato breeding are particularly difficult:

Unfortunately, the potato resists improvement.

The reasons lie in the genetic nature of this crop. It’s very difficult, using traditional breeding, to make gradual improvements in an established potato variety. Mating it with another variety produces tremendously varied offspring, the vast majority of them inferior to the variety that you were hoping to improve. It’s like trying to improve a really good poker hand by reshuffling the whole deck of cards and dealing again.

This is why Douches is so excited about these new potatoes: They’re just like a much-loved variety, but better.

This seems another point worth considering.  Traditional breeding techniques are going to be much more difficult with certain types of food, e.g., potatoes, and it therefore makes even more sense to thing about a GM approach with them.  Anyway, for know, looks like I’m stuck with regular potatoes because the knee-jerk GMO opponents are winning the battle.  I was very intrigued that the CSPI’s Michael Jacobson (somebody not at all afraid of scaring consumers away from certain foods) of all people supports GMO foods:

Yet other advocates for healthy food believe the Simplot potatoes offer real advantages.

“It’s really strange how GMO has become a curse word,” says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Jacobson has been among the leaders of the healthful-food movement. For the past 40 years, he has fought excess sugar, fat, salt and food additives.

But genetic modification? It’s just another technology, he says, “and if we could have genetically engineered crops and foods that produce safer products, and less expensive products, that’s terrific!”

The FDA does need to examine these new potatoes, Jacobson says. But if they do deliver less cancer risk, and result in less food wasted, he hopes that people will buy them.

My guess is that right now the new GM potatoes don’t offer quite enough economic advantages to offset the bad publicity.  But once they do, millions of Americans who are convinced that they are scared of GM foods will be happily munching their GM french fries and potato chips and being none the wiser.

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