Simplot requests deregulation of new biotech spud varieties
By JOHN O’CONNELL
Simplot Plant Sciences has introduced a new line of biotech potatoes using a patented technology that incorporates desirable traits from wild potato DNA into common commercial varieties.
In the May 3 Federal Register, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service published Simplot’s request to deregulate its first batch of Innate potatoes, starting a 60-day public comment period. USDA will then publish an environmental assessment, commencing a 30-day public comment period before the agency makes a final determination based on a thorough review.
The inaugural Innate line includes Ranger Russets, Russet Burbanks and Atlantics that are resistant to black-spot bruising, have low sugars, won't brown when cut and contain low levels of acrylamide, which has been linked to cancer.
Haven Baker, vice president and general manager of Simplot Plant Sciences, said the Innate spuds exhibit half the black-spot bruising and have 50-70 percent less acrylamide. In commercial trials, Baker said Innate spuds yielded equal to their counterpart varieties and were indistinguishable from a sensory perspective.
The next Innate generation will include the same traits, plus late blight resistance and low sugar ends. The third generation will likely add potato virus Y resistance and improved water-use and nitrogen-use efficiency. Innate technology allows researchers to isolate genetic elements from a potato plant genome, rearrange them in desirable configurations and reintroduce them into a plant. Genes introduced through the Innate process quiet the expression of specific traits through a process known as gene silencing.
Simplot researchers predict limiting the technology to genes already found in potatoes should make Innate more broadly accepted than traditional GMOs. Simplot also removed almost all of the inert bacterial DNA used to introduce the new traits.
In polling, the company found 93 percent of consumers would accept Innate, just 1 percent below acceptance of traditional breeding and well above the 63 percent consumer acceptance of other GMOs.
"If we're going to be in the biotechnology business, we want to have technology that's as acceptable to consumers as traditional plant breeding," Baker said.
Regulatory processes for Innate are also underway in Japan, Canada and Mexico.
Duane Grant, a grower in Rupert, Idaho, hopes to be among the first farmers planting Innate seed during the 2014 season.
"I think Simplot’s Innate technology is unique because it builds on the incredible genetic diversity that already exists in the potato family," Grant said.
Mark Darrington, a grower in Declo, Idaho, believes biotechnology, such as Innate, benefits consumers by improving nutrition, reducing pesticide use and lowering food costs.
"The beauty of this technology is it's all potato," Darrington added.
Bill Freese, science policy analyst with the Washington, D.C.,-based Center for Food Safety, said his organization plans to submit concerns about Innate, which he fears may unintentionally silence traits affecting nutrition or creating novel toxins.
"The fact that this is potato DNA, that's a red herring,” Freese said. "The issue is you're using new technology, and you don't understand exactly what the effects are."