No doubt you’ve heard of the infamous potato famine that occurred in Ireland in the 19th century. For several successive years, the potato crops failed due what is known as late blight, which is caused by the fungus-like oomycete pathogen Phytophthora infestans. As a result of the famine, around 1 million people died in Ireland.
What you may not realize, however, is that Phytophthora infestans is still around and still a problem that potato farmers deal with each year. It also affects several other plants, including tomatoes. Fortunately today, farmers have tools available to control late blight with careful application of fungicides.
Simplot has another solution for controlling this pathogen and protecting our potato crops – a genetically modified solution.
If you recall, back in 2014, I announced that Simplot’s Innate potato was approved by the federal government for commercial sale in the United States. The first generation of the GMO potato has an ability to lower the amount of acrylamide, a suspected carcinogen produced when frying potatoes. It is also resistant to bruising, which is good for fresh potato sales and helps reduce food waste. This first generation potato was very successful and the entire crop for 2014 completely sold out, with sales of the 2015 crop also selling well.
The second generation of the Innate potato, known as the Russet Burbank Generation 2, adds a couple new features. First, as mentioned, it will be resistant to late blight. In a big win for farmers and the environment, this is expected to reduce fungicide applications anywhere from 25-45%! In addition, it will be able to withstand colder temperatures for a longer period of time, which should reduce food waste. Even more interesting is that these genetic modifications were accomplished by using genes from other potato varieties, just like the Arctic Apples.
After a series of testing and review, on January 13, 2015, the FDA granted approval for the Russet Burbank. The agency found that this GMO potato is just as safe as its non-GMO counterparts. The FDA’s approval follows prior approval by the USDA in August of 2014. The EPA will also weigh in, and is expected to grant approval in December of this year.
Congratulations to Simplot for making it through this hurdle! I look forward to hearing more good news toward the end of the year!