The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has declared a species of genetically engineered potato to be just as safe and nutritious as other, unaltered spuds, amid growing public outcry against genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and calls for more research into the health effects of consuming them. In a letter to Idaho-based food and agribusiness company J.R. Simplot, the agency said Tuesday that the company's genetically modified Russet Burbank Generation 2, a variety of the Innate brand of potatoes, was not substantially different from other potatoes that are already sold to customers.
The potato has been altered to allow it to be stored for longer and at lower temperatures, to reduce bruising and, when deep fried, to produce less acrylamide, a chemical that is potentially carcinogenic. In March, the FDA approved six varieties of the potato, along with two types of genetically engineered applies, for human consumption, but said that labeling would not be required. At the time, the agency said it had "no additional food safety questions" regarding the altered apples and potatoes.
Genetically modified crops contain DNA from other species that change the way the crop grows or functions. GMOs first became commercially available in the mid-1990s, and they have been controversial ever since as more consumers question whether eating them could have unknown consequences. The controversy over GMOs ranges from debates in the U.S. over how GMOs ought to be labeled to all-out bans in some European countries on growing genetically modified crops.
The consumer backlash against GMOs has been significant enough to prompt several major food chains, such as the restaurant Chipotle and the food manufacturer Campbell's, to declare that they would no longer use genetically engineered ingredients or at least label them when they are used.
McDonald's has said it would not use any of J.R. Simplot's genetically altered potatoes, the Idaho State Journal reported. Doug Cole, the director of marketing and communications for J.R. Simplot, said that the potato would be rolled out at restaurants and hotel convention centers and introduced to customers in 2017.