Social Implications in Agriculture

There’s a new spud in town!

spudBack in the days when I was buying and selling organic produce, retailers were always looking for something new. New items often meant pretty packaging or fancy slicing because really, how many new produce items are there under the sun?  Well apparently now we have a new one under the soil. In early November the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved a new genetically modified potato that can be planted throughout the United States.

This new potato has been genetically engineered to produce less of a pesky chemical that is created when potatoes are fried hotly in fat or oil. Hailed as the next generation of GMO crops that provide benefits to consumers, this potato will also not bruise or discolor as easily. This makes it more profitable for processors to cut, chop, and manipulate this spud into various potato products.
Do we really need a genetically altered tuber just to make it easier to make French fries? Is it really “healthier” to consume potato chips that have fewer “acrylamides”, a potential carcinogen, but are still soaked in oils and fats? Should we not instead be reducing the amount of fried fatty foods we consumer and replace them with whole organic fruits and vegetables?

FriesThis potato was engineered and patented by J. R. Simplot Company, one of the nation’s largest potato producers in the U.S. They are by far the largest supplier of French fries to every fast food joint in the land. They supply McDonald’s, Burger King, and a host of fast food purveyors. Their spuds are the largest single source of frozen French fries, hash browns, potato puffs, and chips.

Simplot is also applying for deregulation of another GMO potato that is engineered to be resistant to potato blight. This was a big problem in 1740 when two fifths of the Irish population relied on potatoes for all their nutrition, but now?

While the USDA has announced the approval for this potato to be planted, one of Simplot’s largest customers isn’t ready to buy in. Shortly after the USDA announcement, McDonald’s announced they would not use genetically modified potatoes. In a company statement they said, “McDonald’s USA does not source GMO potatoes, nor do we have current plans to change our sourcing practices.” The Statesman said the fast food and dehydrated potato industries have urged growers not to plant GE potatoes.

This represents a huge victory for the consumer and all who have worked so hard for GMO labeling and transparency.  While we may be outspent in state initiatives, the power and passion of consumer sentiment speaks louder than money. Companies such as McDonald’s that cater directly to consumers are listening to what parents want and polls show that over 70% of them do not want GMO happy fries.

There is power in consumer preference and pressure. Increasingly, companies that sell us food do not want to be caught on the wrong side of this debate.

Our friends at Food and Water Watch have organized a way to ask Burger King to reject this new genetically engineered potato too! Burger King is one of the largest fast food companies in the U.S. so if they commit to not using GMO potatoes to make their fries, it will take away a huge market for this untested, and unlabeled genetically engineered crop.

The principal lesson here is that we consumers do have power and persuasion with food companies. Remember the adage that the customer is always right? Well, we are their customer!  It is time to assert our power and tell them:  1) We do not want to eat or feed our children GMO foods; 2) We want the right to know if our food has GMO ingredients, and 3) Stop funding NO on GMO labeling initiatives and federal lobbying.

If they don’t listen to us soon, they may someday wake up without a market. We have the power.

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