Potayto, potahto: Controversial new ‘anti-famine’ GMO potato strains approved

© Reuters
The US Department of Agriculture has given its seal of approval to two new strains of genetically engineered potatoes. By using double stranded RNA, the potatoes have been engineered to resist the pathogen responsible for the Irish potato famine.

There could be two new potatoes hitting the soil next spring after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) signed off on two more genetically modified potatoes from Simplot, an agribusiness based in Idaho, on Monday.

The only obstacle for the new potatoes becoming available on the market is a voluntary review process from the FDA, much to the chagrin of GMO skeptics.

Jeffrey Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology, expressed concern for not only the FDA’s voluntary testing program but for the genetic modifying process the potatoes have undergone, in an interview with RT.

It makes sense on paper,” he said of the potatoes that are purported to be resistant to blight – the pathogen responsible for the Great Famine. However, one of the issues is that the effects of modified these genomes are largely unknown.

When we tamper with the genome in the way that they’ve been doing with genetic engineering in our food supply, you end up increasing allergens, toxins, new diseases or other problems – causes massive collateral damage in the DNA” he said.

But blocking the blight is not the only selling point of these scientific spuds. In addition, they are meant to be engineered to prevent bruising and black spots, have a reduction of a chemical that creates carcinogens when cooked at high temperatures and also ship better.

However, all of these benefits could be a curse in disguise. The method used for engineering these potatoes is called double stranded (ds) RNA, meaning the genes of an organism have been reprogrammed or silenced.

A modification for browning and another for blight prevention means that there’s a lot of change occurring in a living organism, and the modifications could interact with each other.

Smith explained, “Scientists around the world are aware that double stranded RNA can also find matches in human DNA and potentially silence and reprogram our gene expression.

The fact that these potatoes contain potentially sensitive modifications that have been approved by the FDA highlights a systemic problem, Smith says.

They haven’t done the research or homework about the health dangers,” he said of the FDA.

Scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency both went on record and published statements that the current regulatory capacity is not capable to deal with double stranded RNA

If Simplot has any concerns about the RNA in their potatoes, they haven’t expressed it.

"We obviously are very proud of these," Simplot spokesman Doug Cole told the Associated Press. Highlighting the potential reduction in food waste by removing browning, Cole said that these potatoes offer higher profits for farmers.

Smith does not share that optimism, saying, “I certainly won’t be eating this potato and I strongly recommend that no one be used as a human guinea pig.”