FDA gives OK for company's genetically engineered potato

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FDA Approves Genetically Engineered Potatoes and Apples as Safe

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A potato genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine is as safe as any other potato on the market, the Food and Drug Administration says.

In a letter Tuesday to Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co., the FDA said the potato isn't substantially different in composition or safety from other products already on the market, and it doesn't raise any issues that would require the agency to do more stringent premarket vetting.

"We're pleased and hope that consumers recognize the benefits once it's introduced into the marketplace next year," Doug Cole, the company's director of marketing and communications, said Wednesday.

Before the potato is marketed to consumers, it must be cleared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Cole said. That's expected to happen in December.

Related: See people protesting genetically engineered food:

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FDA gives OK for company's genetically engineered potato
Logan Perkins, Right to Know -GMO Campaign Coordinator for Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, speaks at a rally outside the State House on Tuesday April 23, 2013 before a legislative hearing on LD 718, An Act to Protect Maine Food Consumers' Right to Know About Genetically Engineered Food and Seed Stock, in Augusta. (Photo by Joe Phelan/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold signs supporting family farms and opposing genetically engineered food as part of the group Safe Food Activists and Concerned Consumers during a protest in Lafayette Park adjacent to the White House in Washington, DC, on January 10, 2013. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold signs supporting family farms and opposing genetically engineered food as part of the group Safe Food Activists and Concerned Consumers during a protest in Lafayette Park adjacent to the White House in Washington, DC, on January 10, 2013. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold signs supporting family farms and opposing genetically engineered food as part of the group Safe Food Activists and Concerned Consumers during a protest in Lafayette Park adjacent to the White House in Washington, DC, on January 10, 2013. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold signs supporting family farms and opposing genetically engineered food as part of the group Safe Food Activists and Concerned Consumers during a protest in Lafayette Park adjacent to the White House in Washington, DC, on January 10, 2013. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold signs supporting family farms and opposing genetically engineered food as part of the group Safe Food Activists and Concerned Consumers during a protest in Lafayette Park adjacent to the White House in Washington, DC, on January 10, 2013. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold signs supporting family farms and opposing genetically engineered food as part of the group Safe Food Activists and Concerned Consumers during a protest in Lafayette Park adjacent to the White House in Washington, DC, on January 10, 2013. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's, speaks at a rally calling for labeling of genetically modified food at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Lawmakers haven't set a vote on the measure, which faces significant opposition particularly in the state Senate. (AP Photo/Tim Roske)
Demonstrators rally in favor of labeling genetically modified food at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Lawmakers haven't set a vote on the measure, which faces significant opposition particularly in the state Senate. (AP Photo/Tim Roske)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR AVAAZ - A giant "Frankenfish" sculpture installed by Avaaz outside of the FDA Headquarters on Tuesday, April 22, 2013 in Silver Spring, Md. One million people signed an Avaaz petition urging the FDA to reject approval of the world's first genetically-modified salmon for human consumption. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for Avaaz)
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the potato in August.

The Russet Burbank Generation 2 is the second generation of Simplot's "Innate" brand potatoes. It includes the first version's reduced bruising, but less of a chemical produced at high temperatures that some studies have shown can cause cancer.

The second-generation potato also includes an additional trait that the company says will allow potatoes to be stored at colder temperatures longer to reduce food waste.

Haven Baker, vice president of plant sciences at Simplot, said late blight — the cause of the Irish potato famine — remains the No. 1 pathogen for potatoes around the world.

"This will bring 24-hour protection to farmers' fields and, in addition, has the potential to reduce pesticide spray by 25 to 45 percent," Baker said.

The late blight resistance comes from an Argentinian variety of potato that naturally produced a defense.

"There are 4,000 species of potatoes," Baker said. "There is an immense library to help us improve this great food. By introducing these potato genes we can bring sustainability and consumer benefits."

The company has already been selling its first generation of Innate potatoes to consumers, selling out its 2014 crop and currently selling the 2015 crop of about 2,000 acres.

Cole said those potatoes were mostly grown in Idaho and Wisconsin, and are being sold in supermarkets across the nation.

But one of the company's oldest business partners — McDonald's — has rejected using any of Simplot's genetically engineered potatoes.

Cole said the company plans to introduce the potatoes to other restaurants and hotel convention centers as precut and pre-peeled potatoes, where he said the resistance to bruising makes them a good product.

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