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Simplot plans GMO-only seed potato farms

John O’Connell

Capital Press

Published on July 19, 2016 5:00PM

PARK CITY, Utah — Officials with Simplot Plant Sciences said their company intends to eventually award contracts for propagating its Innate line of biotech potato seed exclusively to farmers willing to forgo raising conventional spuds.

The planned move is among a host of precautions intended to aid in identity preservation of Innate, said Erik Gonring, Simplot Plant Sciences industry affairs manager, while offering a recent update on the technology to growers at the National Potato Council’s summer meeting.

As Gonring noted, failure to keep biotech spuds segregated from conventional spuds caused market disruptions several years ago when Monsanto attempted to commercialize a biotech potato, called NewLeaf.

Gonring said Simplot has strict operating procedures governing each stage of production — such as covering truck beds with tarps and using segregated storage. He said the company has also informed major processors and dehydrators about tests available to detect the Innate genetic sequence. Furthermore, Simplot keeps records indicating where all Innate potatoes are at a given time, he said.

Gonring said Simplot has applied for approval of Innate in the top 10 foreign spud markets and hopes to get approval from Japan later this year. In the mean time, Japan has announced plans to begin testing a small percentage of potato shipments for the presence of a biotech trait.

The Washington Potato Commission’s executive director, Chris Voigt, said growers in his state are most concerned about the potential for volunteer Innate spuds to spread. Gonring said Simplot has language in its agreement requiring commercial growers to avoid planting conventional spuds in a field after an Innate season and requiring volunteer monitoring for several years. The first generation of Innate was approved Nov. 10, 2015, with sales targeting the chip and fresh-cut potato markets. Genes from other potatoes were added to prevent the spuds from browning when cut, reduce bruising and lower levels of a potentially harmful chemical formed in certain fried foods, called acrylamide.

“We’re part of this new and emerging trend of crops in the biotech market that have traits focused on benefiting the consumer,” Gonring said.

He said 6,500 acres of first-generation Innate spuds were planted this season, and the company’s studies show a 15 percent increase in usable spuds when Innate is packed.

By December, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to deregulate second-generation Innate Russet Burbanks, which will include the original traits plus enhanced cold storage and late blight resistance.

Simplot Plant Sciences spokesman Doug Cole said Simplot is raising 200 acres of second-generation Innate this season for seed propagation.

Cole said the second-generation improvements will be revolutionary for the chipping industry, making it possible to store popular chip varieties for up to nine months. Currently, most chip varieties must be processed shortly after harvest.


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