GMO spud comment period commences
By John O’Connell
BOISE, Idaho — USDA has opened the second and final public comment period on J.R. Simplot, Co.’s Innate line of genetically modified potatoes.
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will accept comments through June 30 on its pest risk assessment and draft environmental assessment regarding deregulation of Innate products.
Haven Baker, vice president and general manager at Simplot Plant Sciences, expects approval of the first Innate potatoes this year and said the products should be commercially available for the next planting season.
“It will be a slow roll-out in the coming years,” Baker said.
He explained Innate incorporates desirable traits from other potato DNA into common commercial varieties. The first line includes Russet Burbanks, Ranger Russets and Atlantics that resist black-spot bruising, have low sugars, won’t brown when cut and contain low levels of acrylamide, a potential carcinogen formed in starchy foods under certain cooking conditions.
In 37 trials conducted last season in 11 states, including Idaho, Oregon and Washington, Baker said Innate Burbanks bruised up to 44 percent less than conventional Burbanks, which are highly susceptible to bruising.
“We’ve looked at the economics of bruise reduction on the fresh industry, and we think there’s 400 million pounds of potato waste that could be reduced by introduction of Innate potatoes,” Baker said.
The trials also demonstrated a 5 percent yield increase in Innate Rangers.
In the first comment period, 309 people weighed in on Innate, including an electronic submission containing 41,475 form letters. By comparison, 400,000 people commented on GMO corn resistant to 2,4-D, and 1.2 million people commented on GMO salmon, Baker said.
Baker believes there’s been less controversy about Innate potatoes due to the product’s benefits for sustainability and human health, and the fact that Simplot introduced traits from other potato DNA rather than from foreign sources.
This season, Simplot is starting its first trials with plots over an acre on its second generation of Innate, which will also be engineered to keep sugar levels down during cold storage and for late blight resistance.
Baker said the improved cold storage trait will enable growers to store spuds at 38 degrees for up to six months, compared with 46-52 degrees for conventional potatoes.
“You have less disease when you can store it colder,” Baker said. “Potatoes hold up better, and there’s less risk.”
GMO spuds haven’t been commercially available since Monsanto suspended sales of NewLeaf, released in 1995 to resist Colorado potato beetle. Some potato industry leaders worry about a repeat of trade headaches associated with NewLeaf.
U.S. Potato Board President and CEO Blair Richardson said GMO crops have proven to be safe, can minimize environmental impacts and are generally supported by the industry.
“I think the board has expressed very simply anyone, whether it be Simplot or anyone introducing this type of product, do it carefully and in a way that does not risk disrupting the existing marketplace,” Richardson said. “From my perspective, one of the biggest concerns is how do we respond to trade restrictions on this being a GMO product, and nothing else besides that?”
Comments may be submitted online at http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=APHIS-2012-0067-0321 and should focus on whether the technology is likely to pose a plant pest risk.