Four or five companies are working on genetically modified varieties, according to John Keeling, executive vice president of the US-based National Potato Council.
The potato council will put together a task force this fall that will try to determine the best way to handle the reintroduction of genetically modified spuds into the marketplace without disrupting commerce, Keeling said.
"We will look at what other commodities have done such as wheat, corn soybeans and how they have handled these kinds of issues," he said.
The first goal is to ensure that any GM potato varieties introduced into the United States are also accepted by processors and most major export markets.
The industry wants to avoid a repeat of the introduction of Monsanto's New Leaf potato in the mid-1990s. While none of the varieties is ready for commercial release yet, the industry wants to be prepared.
The new varieties are expected to include a combination of traits said Keeling, which are insect-and disease-resistant: and some of the varieties may include reduced levels of acrylamide.
Many farmers welcomed the New Leaf potato with its built-in protection against the Colorado potato beetle and some potato viruses. However, it failed to gain acceptance in some key markets, including the French fry industry, and was ultimately scrapped.
In 2001, Japan recalled millions of dollars worth of snack food products containing dehydrated GM potatoes. A costly US dehydrated potato export testing program was launched in response.
Because some countries, such as Japan, still don't allow genetically modified potato products, it's likely that the U.S. industry will have to segregate GM and non-GM potatoes -- something that it didn't do the first time around.
What level of segregation and testing will be necessary at the dehydrated potato level to retain those markets is something that the industry will have to consider, Keeling said.
It will likely be a few more years before any of the GM varieties under development are released and grown commercially.
"None of these has gone to the USDA for formal regulatory approval as far as we know," Keeling said. "That's going to take time."
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