Stopping Simplot and the Innate Potato in Its Tracks
On November 7th, the United States Department of Agriculture approved a new brand of genetically modified potato for commercial planting. The potato is called the Innate Potato, and it’s manufacturer, J.R. Simplot Company, is marketing the potato as a longer-lasting, healthier version of the Russett Burbank potato, one of the most popularly consumed potatoes in the United States. For many GMO advocates and agribusiness corporations, the Innate potato is a momentous innovation, but these are also the same corporations who declare their products safe and beneficial before adequate research into the harmful consequences of large-scale planting and consumption is done. The Innate potato is no different.
The J.R. Simplot Company claims that the Innate Potato’s safety was proven by the decades long approval process, but Food and Water Watch, a food safety and environmental rights organization, has demonstrated that the GMO regulation process in the United States is wholly inadequate. It is based on regulatory frameworks designed long before Genetically Engineered products existed, and it actually does not even study whether or not GMO foods themselves are safe. Food and Water Watch writes that “the FDA does not determine the safety of proposed Genetically Engineered foods; instead, it evaluates whether the genetically engineered product is similar to comparable non-genetically engineered products”. They go on to point out that “the biotech industry self-regulates when it comes to the safety of genetically engineered foods.” That means that the J.R. Simplot Company’s claims about the safety of the Innate potato is based solely on their own research, and no independent scientists or agencies have verified their claims.
According to Simplot, the Innate Potato is genetically engineered not to turn brown after cutting and to reduce the amount of acrylamide, a carcinogen produced when potatoes are fried at high temperatures. The National Institute of Health has demonstrated that high levels of acrylamide has been associated with increased rates of cancer in rats, but also that more research into this association needs to be conducted. Even if reduced levels of acrylamide were indeed beneficial to consumer health, Simplot has not studied whether or not their potato has other negative health consequences.
They also have not studied the indirect health consequences nor the environmental consequences that could come from growing the Innate potato. The J.R. Simplot Company controls as much as 2,085,000 acres of farmland, and there’s no possible way that the company could prevent the genes from their engineered potato plants from spreading beyond their fields and contaminating local biodiversity. There also is great concern that if Simplot’s potato become the industry standard, there could be extreme consequences for diversity of the world’s potato crops. Lack of biodiversity was one of the most significant causes of the Irish Potato famine in the 19th century, and lack of biodiversity could directly impact the world’s small potato farmers who utilize biodiversity in order to deal with climatic variation and climate change. Relying on a potato variety produced by a company, would give Simplot extreme control over a significant source of food for millions of people; it would take away from small farmers their autonomy to decide when, what, and how to grow. It could also limit their ability to reuse seeds and grafts from other plants.
Scientists have worked with and catalogued over 5,000 different varieties of potato from the Southernmost areas of Peru and all the way up the Andean chain. Some of those varieties had almost disappeared before the International Potato Center began preserving, storing, and distributing potato biodiversity to farmers. To lose this biodiversity, much of which is adapted to specific eco-niches, would be disastrous for small farmers in the Andes and throughout the world. Andean potato biodiversity is one of the reasons why Andean small farmers have never experienced a potato famine like that that occurred in Ireland.
Just today, McDonald’s announced that they have no plans to purchase Innate potatoes from Simplot. Simplot is one of McDonald’s largest potato suppliers, and their decision not to buy the potatoes could be a decisive blow for Innate’s success. This announcement is a partial victory for organizations like Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, and the Center for Food Safety, who have been pressuring McDonald’s not to buy the potato since at least 2013.
However, stopping Simplot and the Innate potato in its tracks will require that we do more. Simplot does plan to introduce the Innate potato into its direct to consumer brands which include Maple View Farms, UpSides Natural Foods, and Good Grains. It’s time to add all of these brands to the list of brands you should boycott that’s probably already hanging on your refrigerator.