The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday approved a genetically modified potato, altered to resist bruising and to provide potential health benefits.
Called the Innate potato, produced by J.R. Simplot Co., it would be the first genetically modified potato in the U.S. in more than 10 years. A GMO potato developed by Monsanto Co. was taken off the market in the early 2000s after farmers and consumers showed little interest.
“This approval comes after a decade of scientific development, safety assessments and extensive field tests,” J.R. Simplot said in a statement. The Boise, Idaho, agribusiness company is a major producer of french fries.
The USDA examined whether the potato posed a threat to other plants. Its safety for human consumption is being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration. J.R. Simplot, like other companies that develop genetically modified crops, voluntarily submitted its product to the FDA, and company spokesman Doug Cole said it expects FDA clearance in coming weeks.
The Innate potato uses genes from cultivated or wild potatoes to achieve its new traits, hence the traits are “innate,” Mr. Cole said. It was engineered to reduce black spots from bruising, a common reason why potatoes can’t be marketed. It also has been designed to produce lower levels of acrylamide, a potential carcinogen that forms in potatoes and other starchy foods when they are cooked at high temperatures.
That puts it among the first genetically modified crops to offer a direct benefit to consumers. Nearly all other modified crops, such as corn and soybeans, are made to withstand pesticides, making it easier for farmers to grow them.
J.R. Simplot plans to roll out three varieties of the genetically modified potato, the Ranger Russet and Russet Burbank, used for french fries and everyday use by consumers, and the Atlantic, which is used mostly for chips.
Another genetically modified food under USDA and FDA review is an apple, engineered by Canada-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits to resist turning brown when cut open or sliced.
Americans have been debating labeling genetically modified foods for years. On Tuesday, voters in Oregon and Colorado defeated ballot measures that would have required labels on all genetically modified food sold in their states.
“As a general caution, we don’t think enough has been done—and we don’t know enough about this technology—to let this move forward at this time,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, director of sustainable agriculture at the Center for Food Safety.
J.R. Simplot processes about 3 billion pounds of potatoes a year, and plans to roll out the Innate varieties in limited test markets in the spring or summer. The firm also is seeking approval for the potato in Japan, Canada and Mexico.
Also on Friday, the USDA approved a genetically modified form of alfalfa, designed by Monsanto and Forage Genetics International. A significant amount of alfalfa grown in the U.S. is already genetically modified.