GE Potatoes: Is It Time To Start Talking Again?

In more and more conversations with potato scientists and other industry people I keep hearing references to “GMO” or genetically modified organisms. Considered a somewhat “taboo” subject for the last 10 years, it appears there may be a slight thawing in attitudes regarding this controversial subject. I begin to wonder if it’s time to start considering the advantages of “genetically enhanced” (GE) potato varieties again.

Back in the early 1990s, the potato industry was one of the first to benefit from such modified varieties. The so-called “Newleaf” varieties from Monsanto had a gene added that conferred resistance to the Colorado potato beetle. These genetically enhanced varieties were very effective in managing the serious pest. Disaster struck, however, in early 2001 when snack foods delivered to Japan tested positive for a genetic modification that had not yet been approved in that country. The ensuing furor not only cost a fortune but absolutely banished GMO potatoes, no matter what trait they possessed, from the North American production system.

The fallout from this catastrophe remains with us today. Seed potato producers in Idaho are still required by processors to submit samples of their seed potatoes to a laboratory test to ensure that they contain no GMO traits. It’s hard to blame the processors, as there still remains a justifiable culture of fear over the possibility of finding another GMO positive sample in snack foods or other potato products exported to Japan.

Was this response an overreaction? Difficult to say, but it’s still hard to talk about GMO potatoes with seed or commercial potato producers in the U.S. It’s too bad, really. One of the main attractions of genetically modifying potatoes is the ability to take a well-established variety that has predictable field, storage, table, and/or processing properties and add desirable traits, such as insect, virus, or late blight resistance to them. Who would argue that the potential to utilize virtually the same varieties that we currently use with lower pesticide, fertilizer, and water inputs, doesn’t look extremely attractive?

Bring Value To The Consumer

The problem with the traits I have described so far is the fact that they are all intended to help out the producers and bring little, if any, perceived value to the end user. While it is certainly possible to cast a favorable light on varieties with enhancements that enable lower inputs, this concept is pretty remote to most consumers and they are unlikely to request these traits. More attractive to the consumer would be the addition of traits that they actually want. Perhaps we could add superior nutritional characteristics, like higher protein or enhanced vitamin content, for instance.

Another problem with the earlier modified varieties was that the genes that had been added did not originate from potatoes. The Newleaf gene, so effective on the Colorado potato beetle, had actually come from a bacterium. While most scientists would probably conclude that “a gene is a gene,” there were many outside the scientific community that found such varieties “unnatural” and therefore undesirable. At the current time, there are a number of alternatives to this issue such as utilizing only genes found in the potato or close relatives.

Yet another problem: In the past, varieties with enhanced traits were created and “pushed” through the system. The majority of the people I’ve discussed this subject with believe it would be much more effective if varieties with enhanced traits were pulled through by consumer demand rather than pushed through with obscure, remote promises of “lower inputs” or “improved environmental friendliness.” If and when the potato industry moves forward on embracing varieties with “enhanced” capabilities, it is mandatory that the traits be something that the consumer wants. 

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “GE Potatoes: Is It Time To Start Talking Again?

  1. Sounds like an article right out of the Monsanto PR department (Monsanto is the ONLY company to ever commercially produce a GMO Potato). It was not the "GMO Japanese Potato Chip" that sunk GMO potatoes. It was McDonalds and other fast food restaurants who were responding to US CONSUMERS who stated emphatically that they do not want Genetically Modified Potatoes in their food or french frys! McDonalds told their producers that they DO NOT want GMO potatoes. Thus ended the Monsanto GMO Potato commercial viability. The Growth of organic foods around the world should be proof positive that consumers do not want GMO foods. If true labeling were allowed in the USA of foods that contain GMO ingrediants, like in Europe, you would see virtually all GMO products disappear from the market. Instead we have bought off politicians in the USA who subscribe to the GMO industries ideas that consumers would be confused by the labeling. More likely they fear a repeat of the McDonalds incident and death of the GMO seed lines. How about working to develop better hybrids using traditional hybrid techniques? They made a superior potatoe in England that OUTPREFORMED the GMO variety and it was done quite quickly.

  2. Most people I know will never accept genetically engineered crops of any kind. Sadly, the industry mirrors the tobacco industry – full of smoke and lies. For example, Monsanto tampered with the study results from research on their GMO Newleaf potato. (http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389×229295) As long as the industry refuses to label GMO's, it's safe to say they are hiding something. They do not want to be held liable in lawsuits resulting from the toxic effects of GMO's in the diet for an extended period. And there is enough evidence to support the fact that GMO's are unhealthy for animals, people, and the environment. Grow your own GMO's and eat them yourself, but don't feed them to me.

Featured Stories
2011 WA IFTA Tour
Fruits
August 24, 2016
Get On The Bus [Opinion]
Sure, you can see and talk with virtually anyone in the world through your smart phone, but you can’t shake their hand. Read More
Crowd protesting GMOs stock image FEATURE
Farm Management
August 24, 2016
Swaying Views On GMO Foods No Easy Task
Featured speaker for the upcoming FFVA Annual Convention says tides are slowly turning in how people digest genetic modification. Read More
A subsurface microirrigation system.
(Photo credit: Peter Jacoby)
Grapes
August 23, 2016
Deeper Irrigation Method Showing Promise For Vineyards
A new subsurface irrigation system is showing promise for slashing water usage in vineyards. Many vineyards use drip lines that Read More
Tar spot of corn
Disease Control
August 23, 2016
Florida Sweet Corn Has New Deadly Stalker In Tar Spot
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this disease. Read More
sprayer nozzles
Fruits
August 23, 2016
New Insecticides Geared To Give Growers Edge Over Pests
Check out three unique chemistries from several of the industry's leading crop protection suppliers. Read More
Prepping apples for cleaning, waxing, and sorting.
Apple Grower of the Year
August 22, 2016
Apple Crop Forecasts Live On Twitter
You'll be able to get up-to-the-minute reports of not only the various regions of the U.S., but key production regions around the world. Read More
Florida orange juice label close-up
Oranges
August 22, 2016
Major OJ Purchase Promises Relief For Florida Citrus Sector
$30 million planned acquisition from USDA to be used for surplus removal. Read More
sweet-orange like hybrid peel
Varieties & Rootstocks
August 22, 2016
Florida Citrus Breeders Squeezed For Time
The pressure is on to develop a more HLB-tolerant orange. Read More
Growers should remove unharvested cherries and destroy them to cut spotted wing drosophila populations, as Nikki Rothwell demonstrates with this golf cart.
Pest Control
August 21, 2016
Spotted Wing Drosophila: For Michigan, It’s A ‘Game-Changer’
Why the pest can be so much more destructive for Eastern cherry growers might be due to what they’re not farming. Read More
EGVM
Grapes
August 19, 2016
European Grapevine Moth Eradicated From California
Agricultural officials confirm eradication of invasive pest, lift quarantine restrictions. Read More
The Latest
Fruits
August 24, 2016
Get On The Bus [Opinion]
Sure, you can see and talk with virtually anyone in the world through your smart phone, but you can’t shake their hand. Read More
Farm Management
August 24, 2016
Swaying Views On GMO Foods No Easy Task
Featured speaker for the upcoming FFVA Annual Convention says tides are slowly turning in how people digest genetic modification. Read More
Grapes
August 23, 2016
Deeper Irrigation Method Showing Promise…
A new subsurface irrigation system is showing promise for slashing water usage in vineyards. Many vineyards use drip lines that Read More
Disease Control
August 23, 2016
Florida Sweet Corn Has New Deadly Stalke…
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this disease. Read More
Fruits
August 23, 2016
New Insecticides Geared To Give Growers …
Check out three unique chemistries from several of the industry's leading crop protection suppliers. Read More
Apple Grower of the Year
August 22, 2016
Apple Crop Forecasts Live On Twitter
You'll be able to get up-to-the-minute reports of not only the various regions of the U.S., but key production regions around the world. Read More
Oranges
August 22, 2016
Major OJ Purchase Promises Relief For Fl…
$30 million planned acquisition from USDA to be used for surplus removal. Read More
Varieties & Rootstocks
August 22, 2016
Florida Citrus Breeders Squeezed For Tim…
The pressure is on to develop a more HLB-tolerant orange. Read More
Pest Control
August 21, 2016
Spotted Wing Drosophila: For Michigan, …
Why the pest can be so much more destructive for Eastern cherry growers might be due to what they’re not farming. Read More
Grapes
August 19, 2016
European Grapevine Moth Eradicated From …
Agricultural officials confirm eradication of invasive pest, lift quarantine restrictions. Read More
Fruits
August 19, 2016
Parts Of New York Now In Extreme Drought
Water deficits starting to cause concern for fire, water shortages in the Empire State. Read More
Citrus
August 19, 2016
Rough Winter In Store For Much Of The U.…
The Old Farmer’s Almanac and its competitor The Farmers’ Almanac predict the 2016-2017 winter will be cold for much of the country. Read More
Citrus
August 18, 2016
Florida Farmer Takes Fresh Approach To G…
New easy-peel, seedless varieties offer market potential. Read More
GenNext Growers
August 18, 2016
USDA Invests $17.8M To Educate Next Gene…
Money will bolster efforts of partner organizations to increase next generation of growers. Read More
GenNext Growers
August 18, 2016
Meet Mike Basedow Of The Young Growers A…
Coordinator talks about the future of young growers and the evolution of fruit production. Read More
Citrus
August 18, 2016
Trump Campaign Announces Agricultural Ad…
Just three of the 64 are directly involved with fruits and vegetables, all three are Californians. Read More
Farm Marketing
August 18, 2016
How Is American Farm Marketer Doing So F…
American Farm Marketer launched early this year, and we'd love to hear your thoughts about what we're doing right, and where we can use some improvement! Read More
Farm Marketing
August 18, 2016
5 Farm Marketing Ideas Recently Spied By…
Our editors visit farm marketers all over the country and see great ideas. We each picked one or two that you can put into action. Read More
[gravityform id="62" title="false" description="false"]