In July 2015, the first genetically engineered (or genetically modified, otherwise known as “GMO”) potatoes arrived on store shelves in the form of a specific type of white russets.
Now, nearly five years later, most consumers still remain blissfully unaware that the potatoes even exist, and to make matters more complicated, three new types of GMO potatoes have been approved by the FDA. And because they’re not labeled, few people even know if they’ve been eating them or not (despite the fact that they are available in relatively small quantities, they are still potentially lurking on store shelves, particularly in rural areas out west).
As has been the case for the entire GMO era in the United States, no labeling has been required for the controversial new potatoes, which were approved by J.R. Simplot despite a projected $1.6 billion disruption to the U.S. potato export market due to expected rejections from other countries.
If you want to avoid these “novel” types of GMO potatoes, there are more than a few things you must know before your next shopping trip.
Three Types of New GMOs To Watch Out For On Store Shelves
While they have been declared “safe” by the U.S. EPA and FDA, critics say the new GMO potato varieties, which were originally set to be grown mostly in Idaho and Wisconsin, have not undergone the type of long-term independent safety or environmental testing befitting of an entirely new type of organism.
The three new varieties to watch out for are as follows: Ranger Russet, Atlantic and Russet Burbank, in addition to the White Russet variety that was introduced in limited quantities in 2015.
The new GMO potatoes have been genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine, and likely will be planted this spring before being sold in the fall. The potatoes are part of the “Innate” line from J.R. Simplot.
These potatoes are said to have less bruising, less of a carcinogenic chemical that is given off when cooking, fewer black spots and enhanced cold storage. They were also engineered to use less fungicides, according to the developers.
While GMO producing corporations continue to make similar promises about their creations, an October 2016 report from The New York Times titled ‘Broken Promises of Genetically Modified Crops’ found that the crops have not lived up to promises of greater yields or less agricultural chemical use.
Meanwhile, skeptics of the new GMO potato wonder what exactly was wrong with the regular version, and whether the new varieties have been adequately tested for allergens and other issues, because of the cumulative effects of long-term eating of a food that is one of the world’s four staple food crops.
The Original GMO Potatoes — The Failed Experiment That Sent Shockwaves Throughout Europe
In the early days of the GMO experiment, Arpad Pustzai, a respected Scottish biologist, studied the original GM potato and found dramatic health risks showing that the potatoes damaged the gut, immune system, and other organs of lab animals; the study helped lead to the current climate of skepticism and bans on the cultivation of GM crops throughout Europe.
The new GMO potatoes are quite a bit different from the original ones Pustzai studied, however.
But they have been created using a new process called “gene editing,” one that allows the plants to avoid the type of regulation that traditional GMOs are subject to (standards critics say are already too lax), making them far less tested than the peer-reviewed independent process Pustzai went through originally in 1998.
How to Avoid the New GMO Potatoes
The new potatoes come in the three main varieties listed above: Ranger Russet, Atlantic and Ruset Burbank; White Russet may also be on store shelves currently (click here to learn how to avoid this variety).
Unfortunately for consumers, the new GMO potatoes could begin showing up in many places without warning: from grocery store shelves to cafes and restaurants, due to the fact that they will not be labeled.
The lack of mandatory labeling comes as a result of the Biotech and food industry spending tens of millions of dollars to prevent it, and also the recent national law that was crafted in order to subvert the state of Vermont’s democratically passed mandatory labeling law on GMOs.
For now, your best bet is to buy the above varieties of potatoes organic whenever possible, and to contact the Simplot company by phone or email, or on the Facebook page by clicking here, and telling them how you feel about the new potatoes. You can also look for the words “Innate” or Simplot on the bag, and choose to buy different varieties whenever possible.
At any rate, spending your organic dollars on potatoes is already one of your best bets anyway: they are one of the most heavily sprayed crops, and their soft skin soaks up pesticide residues far more than many other food crops.
Thanks for reading! This article was first written in 2015 after the potatoes were approved.
The company J.P. Simplot requested an extension of deregulation for its GMO potatoes in 2020. Learn more here, or contact the company to let them know how you feel about their unlabeled GMO potatoes here.