You’re probably aware of the best-known GMO crops such as corn, soy, and canola. Did you know that there are also GMO potatoes? They have been around since 2015, but it is just now that they are becoming widely available in the American food supply. To address this new GMO concern, the Non-GMO Project has officially moved the potato from the Monitored-Risk list to the High-Risk list in the Non-GMO Project Standard.
The Non-GMO Project evaluates key criteria to determine when a crop needs to be upgraded to the High-Risk list. These criteria include the number of acres planted, the degree of presence in the supply chain, and the potential for use in human food or animal feed. When these factors reach a predetermined threshold, the crop is recommended for addition to the High-Risk list.
The genetically modified potato has now met this threshold. This means that products made with potato will be subject to extra scrutiny before they can become Non-GMO Project Verified.
The Genetically Modified Potato
Potatoes have a gene that causes them to bruise when damaged. In these new GMO potatoes, that gene has been silenced so it cannot be expressed. The potato still gets damaged, but the symptoms are hidden from view—and from the consumer. This is not the only modification made to these potatoes; they have also been altered to produce lower levels of acrylamide when cooked.
The GMO potato has been engineered through a method of gene silencing called RNA interference (RNAi). This genetic engineering technique results in a potato that hides the symptoms of blackspot bruising rather than preventing it. Currently, GMO potatoes are being marketed under the Simplot Innate brand, most commonly found under the trademark White Russet. The Non-GMO Project’s full-time research team has kept a watchful eye on these potatoes since their debut and continues to monitor their presence in the North American food supply.
To understand RNA interference, it is important to know that messenger RNA (mRNA) carries genetic instructions from the cell nucleus out to other parts of a cell. RNAi begins when a different type of RNA (dsRNA) is placed inside a cell. The dsRNA gets cut up by enzymes, paired up with proteins, and then ends up binding to a specific target site where it fits on the mRNA. This can prevent the mRNA from delivering all of its instructions, effectively “silencing” the desired gene. In the potato’s case, the gene being silenced is the one that causes browning….
And that’s all it does, except for pleiotropy and everything else that they don’t know about what they’re doing and the consequences of hiding bruises and resultant infections and fermentation from shoppers. Meanwhile the USDA can’t afford to conduct the studies needed to determine toxicity of any GMO food.