The GMO Challenge in the Potato Industry
Bioengineering can be useful in helping provide inherent resistance to late blight disease (LBD), which was responsible for the widespread crop losses that led to the Irish famine in the mid-19th century. Farmers currently use significant amounts of fungicides to protect their crops against LBD. Studies show that a genetically engineered potato carrying a blight resistant gene could help farmers reduce fungicide sprays by up to 90%.
It can also be a useful tool for improving the nutrition profile of potatoes, as well as providing other pest- and disease-resistance traits.
Bioengineering was also used by Simplot to develop the ‘Innate’ variety of potatoes, which resist bruising and browning and produce less asparagine – an amino-acid that turns into acrylamide – during high-heat cooking, such as frying.
‘Innate’ was a cisgenic GMO rather than transgenic, meaning that it only used genes from potatoes, not other species, to achieve its desired traits. The genetically modified ‘Innate’ potato was approved by the United States Department of Agriculture in 2014 and the US Food & Drug Administration in 2015.
Arguments against GMOs are typically driven by concerns about corporate control of the food supply and the role of multinational agrichemical companies in developing GMO commodity crops, objections to the patenting process, concerns about possible impacts on biodiversity and the belief that they increase pesticide use.
Critics warn that there is insufficient data available on the long-term health effects of using GMOs, and that financial interests push the genetically modified organisms to market too fast for a thorough scientific process. Some people also believe that GMOs and organic crops cannot co-exist and that the most common potato varieties, such as Russet Burbank and Ranger Russet, will soon be contaminated with GMO stock.
You can read the rest of this article in the Summer Issue of Potato Business Digital magazine, which you can access by clicking here.