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U.S.D.A. Approves Modified Potato. Next Up: French Fry Fans

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Health Issues page.


A genetically modified Innate potato, left, made by J.R. Simplot, next to a bruised conventional potato. Credit Simplot

A potato genetically engineered to reduce the amounts of a potentially harmful ingredient in French fries and potato chips has been approved for commercial planting, the Department of Agriculture announced on Friday.

The potato's DNA has been altered so that less of a chemical called acrylamide, which is suspected of causing cancer in people, is produced when the potato is fried.

The new potato also resists bruising, a characteristic long sought by potato growers and processors for financial reasons. Potatoes bruised during harvesting, shipping or storage can lose value or become unusable.

The biotech tubers were developed by the J. R. Simplot Company, a privately held company based in Boise, Idaho, which was the initial supplier of frozen French fries to McDonald's in the 1960s and is still a major supplier. The company's founder, Mr. Simplot, who died in 2008, became a billionaire.

The potato is one of a new wave of genetically modified crops that aim to provide benefits to consumers, not just to farmers as the widely grown biotech crops like herbicide-tolerant soybeans and corn do. The nonbruising aspect of the potato is similar to that of genetically engineered nonbrowning apples, developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which are awaiting regulatory approval.