08 January 2014
McDonald's poised to embrace new GMO potato farming in 2014 and beyond
A new variety of genetically modified potato could show up in Idaho as early as 2015.
Nearly 13 years ago, customers revolted against Monsanto's transgenic NewLeaf potato, which contained synthetic bacteria to kill insect pests. Now, a new company, J.R. Simplot Co., aims to bring back genetically modified potatoes to the state and elsewhere.
The Idaho Potato Commission, representing Idaho's $3 billion potato industry, is in support of the new GMO potato variety but is wary of customer opposition. Unless your customers are prepared to embrace this product, it's not going to be successful, said Frank Muir, president of the Commission.
McDonald's on the other hand has a financial interest in the new GMO potato business.
McDonald's vast influence could spur widespread new GMO potato farming
With a global daily production of 9 million pounds of fries a day, McDonald's is looking for better ways to lower the cost of processing potatoes for fry production. This business move may encourage and embrace new GMO potato agriculture, spearheaded by their very own potato distributor, none other than Simplot.
Simplot has come up with a new 'Innate' brand of potatoes that don't use synthetic bacteria. Instead, their variety effectively silences potato DNA to stop the potatoes' natural bruising process. This would reduce black spots in potatoes, thus increasing crop yields. McDonald's wouldn't have to throw away bad potatoes. They could increase revenues with the new enzyme-stripped 'Innate' potato by reducing waste.
Haven Baker, Simplot's Harvard- and Yale-trained vice-president of plant sciences, said his scientists journeyed inside the vegetable's genome to 'silence' unwanted attributes, while making sure that it remained 100 percent potato. You'll never get as much beneficial effect from traditional plant breeding, he says. And it'll take twice as long.
Enzyme-stripped, DNA-silenced food could have many unintended consequences
Center for Food Safety science analyst Bill Freese is concerned about the unintended consequences that may arise when four gene codes for potato enzymes are turned off.
RNA interference technology silences genes, throwing off the natural life processes of the potatoes. How might this interfere with people and contribute to rising incidences of food allergies? Altering the natural enzymes of a food could change how the body processes that food.
Still, Muir believes that [t]hey're taking all the appropriate steps, praising McDonald's potato distributor for reaching out to consumers who may eventually buy Innate potatoes and unbruised McDonald's golden fries.
Federal Government is on board
If the government gets behind the new science, then by 2015, the new GMO McDonald's golden fry could become a reality. The National Potato Commission in Washington, D.C., representing 45,000 U.S. growers is already on board. Chief Executive Officer John Keeling said he supports scientific advancements to improve potatoes. The Innate brand of potato awaits USDA approval, which was filed in May 2013.
McDonald's trying to stay under the radar
McDonald's isn't being very open about the issue, but a McDonald's spokeswoman told The Guardian that their corporate decision ultimately boils down to the advice of food, industry and regulatory experts. Since McDonald's already uses GMO ingredients in other foods, and since current scientific consensus in the US believes that genetically engineered crops are safe to eat, it's obvious that McDonald's is leaning toward utilizing new GMO potatoes.
Simplot's main rival, ConAgra, has already stated that their potatoes are not genetically modified, so there are still natural options for McDonald's and fry producers to choose from.
So what direction will McDonald's head in 2014? Are they planning to embrace the enzyme-stripped, DNA-silenced potato? Will they spur mass production of the new 'Innate' brand in the years ahead?