Will McDonald's Use GMO Potatoes for Its Famous French Fries?

This article was originally posted on TakePart.com. Written by  Clare Leschin-Hoar.

Golden, crispy french fries from McDonald's are a food so beloved by Americans that you can almost taste them just by thinking about them—even if it's been years since you've sworn off fast food. But something deep inside those unforgettable taters may be changing.

Yesterday, watchdog group Food and Water Watch sent McDonald's CEO Donald Thompson a letterasking the fast-food giant to avoid using the genetically engineered potato being developed by its largest french fry supplier, J.R. Simplot.

J.R. Simplot, which has been selling french fries to McDonald's since the mid-1960s, applied for USDA approval of its Innate-brand potato in May, saying its genetic modifications will reduce black bruising and will produce less of the chemical acrylamide when fried. Acrylamide has been linked to cancer risk.

"We were pleased to learn that you recently confirmed that you have no plans to use or sell the genetically engineered Arctic Apple in any of your products, and we are writing to ask you to make the same commitment to not purchase the genetically engineered potato created by one of your largest suppliers, J.R. Simplot Company," writes F&WW executive director Wenonah Hauter.

Even that statement is controversial: Okanagan Specialty Fruits says it's simply untrue that McDonald's has rejected its GMO apple, while Friends of the Earth provides this letter as proof McDonald's has no intention of carrying the Arctic Apple. TakePart's request for an interview or written statement regarding McDonald's policy on sourcing genetically modified apples or potatoes went unanswered.

"The genetically engineered potato is not adequately studied for human consumption, which is an FDA problem. For the USDA, we're worried about what else it will do to the agricultural system," says Lovera.

Patty Lovera, a spokesperson for the watchdog group, says the request is about much more than just labeling.

"The genetically engineered potato is not adequately studied for human consumption, which is an FDA problem. For the USDA, we're worried about what else it will do to the agricultural system," says Lovera.

Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, is concerned about insect resistance, potential for increased levels of toxins, and the unintended consequences that may occur from silencing four native potato gene codes for enzymes.

Unlike genetically modified corn and soybeans, which are tweaked to withstand the herbicide glyphosate, or to resist insects, the Innate potato uses technology that turns certain genes off.

"If they're interfering with the RNA and shutting off genes, what else happens? What else have you changed? We're not confident they've fully explored that," says Lovera. "Take the GMO apple. When an apple browns, it makes it unattractive to certain pests. By turning that off, did you just increase the pest load? The story is never simple. We're looking for a better evaluation of what else changes when there is RNA interference."

While it's not a fool-proof method, consumers who want to avoid genetically modified food can browse ingredient lists and make an educated guess on whether the product they're buying may contain GMOs. Most corn, soybeans, and sugar beets grown in the U.S. are genetically modified. So if they're on the ingredient list, chances are high the product contains GMOs.

What's changing is where new GMO ingredients are showing up. For consumers, the line is getting blurry.

Unlabeled GMO sweet corn is already being sold in produce sections across the country. So are yellow crookneck squash and papaya from Hawaii. A genetically modified salmon is in the final stages of FDA approval. And the USDA is close to giving the nod to a non-browning genetically modified apple—approval may be a mere three months away.

Read the full article on TakePart.com.

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