January 2019
Editorial: GMO potatoes present opportunity By Zeke Jennings

Why aren't we producing more GMO potatoes? Mostly because public demand just isn't there yet. The industry needs to educate the consumer.

Another year is in the books and nearly another decade, as hard as that is to believe. We’ve entered 2019 — the final year of the 2010s.

The coming of a new year is always a good time to take stock, to reflect on challenges and look ahead to new opportunities. We do so in this issue in taking a look at some of the major topics either already affecting the potato industry or that could in the near future.

Zeke-Jennings-SpudmanOne of the topics I asked industry leaders about is GMO — genetically modified organisms.

J.R. Simplot’s Innate potato, which now includes several varieties of russets, was approved by the USDA in 2014. Still, very few of the potatoes grown in the U.S. are genetically altered, despite the USDA noting they are just as healthy as non-GMO and they contain no asparagine, which turns into a carcinogen when the potato is fried.

Innates don’t brown or blemish, which leads to less waste and more efficiency, and they are healthier when fried. So, why aren’t we growing more GMO potatoes?

Well, because the demand just isn’t there yet. That’s largely because of public perception, not only in the U.S. but even more so around the world. GMO has a negative connotation in society, much like the term “processed.” People think if it’s GMO, it’s not “all natural” — a non-regulated label that really is just a marketing ploy.

If research shows GMO potatoes are more efficient, just as healthy — if not healthier — and harbor no ill effects on soil or the environment, it will come back to educating the public. That will be part of the challenge faced by the industry.

It’s no secret the Atkins diet and other low-carb, weight-loss fads have hurt the potato market in recent decades. As nutritional science advances, more and more people are becoming aware of how healthy potatoes really are for the human body. It’s all about education.

When you’re trying to change public perception, there will always be opposition from folks who will benefit if the perception stays the same. That’s true in pretty much anything.

For more information on developments in gene editing, be sure to check out Melanie Epp’s story, “Genetic Opportunities.” There are some interesting things happening.

On that note, here is to a very happy, healthy and fruitful 2019!

— Zeke Jennings is the managing editor of Spudman magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]

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P.O. Box 128
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