INT – GM POTATOES
KENNEWICK, Wash. — A University of Idaho researcher says he’s optimistic efforts to develop GM potatoes will resurface.
Joseph Guenthner, a UI professor in Moscow, Idaho, said he believes it’s possible the organic industry or environmental organizations may one day accept GM potatoes developed using traits from other potato plants.
Efforts to develop GM potatoes date back to the 1980s, Guenthner said. Efforts failed due to export market concerns or political pressure by groups like Greenpeace, he said.
“Four decades of scientific and economic activity and we don’t have a commercial GM product on the market now,” he said.
Simplot continues to be involved in developing genetically modified potatoes, Guenthner said.
“It’s not just Simplot who is working on GM potatoes,” Guenthner said. “There are people at universities and other agribusinesses who are developing products I think would be great for producers and consumers.”
He and a graduate student surveyed industry representatives for the company to determine the likelihood GM potatoes would find acceptance in the marketplace.
His study determined there was potentially more support for GM potatoes using traits from other potato plants than using traits from other species.
Farmers are most interested in traits that increase yields and water and nutrient efficiency, but consumers are interested in traits that improve nutrition and have cancer-fighting properties.
The study also found more potential acceptance if processors have strict guidelines for growing and handling GM potatoes. That includes fields and equipment designated for GM use only, planting and harvesting GM crops last and delivering potatoes directly to the buyer from the field to avoid mixing them with non-GM potatoes in storage.
Trucks carrying GM potatoes would be tarped to avoid potential potatoes falling off and mixing with non-GM potatoes.
Two other scenarios were also considered. In one, growers would make their own decisions on keeping GM and non-GM potatoes separate. The third scenario had elements of both of the others.
Guentner noted that the stricter scenarios held a potential for a range of less than 1 percent to 2 percent contamination. His goal is for less than 2 percent contamination. Most foreign markets are tolerant of up to 5 percent contamination.
U.S certified organic programs have a tolerance of roughly 5 percent contamination.
In a related story:
On Tuesday, BASF the German chemical company, said that it has given up seeking approval for GM potatoes in Europe after concerted opposition from consumers, farmers and lawmakers. Environmental activists have destroyed GM crops on fields in Europe because they believe that they might harm health and erode biological diversity. BASF said that, “…continued investment cannot be justified due to uncertainty in the regulatory environment and threats [over the destruction of crops].”
BASF will continue its GM crop business in the United States, however, and has even added GM corn as one of its target crops even though the company has stopped its research and development activities into nutritionally enhanced corn in the US “as part of a continuous review of the project portfolio.”