Last year, a commercial French-fry supplier known as J.R. Simplot tried to convince McDonald’s to switch to a GMO potato it had engineered to, more or less, never brown or bruise. You’d think this would be desirable, but it turned out the chain did not, and neither did Frito-Lay. While that may seem like a pair of bad omens for the Innate potato (so called because it still has 100 percent potato DNA, unlike the recently approved GM salmon), the taters actually just got the all-clear from the FDA, whose regulatory approval was the primary holdup. After some tests, the agency has echoed the USDA’s ruling and said they’re “as safe as any other potato on the market,” setting them up for a final rubber-stamping by the EPA, now expected in December.
There’s no proof yet that GMOs are unsafe, though that definitely hasn’t kept the public tide from turning against them. Corporations are therefore increasingly loath to so much as talk about genetic modification; a Frito-Lay exec refused to even be quoted on why Innate potatoes were a nonstarter out of fear “that someone would mistakenly get the opposite impression.”
An earlier version of the Innate (sort of a halfsie engineered just to bruise less easily) is already approved and out, and Simplot says it’s done just fine. And the new Innates also have a few upsides: They were genetically rewired in part to eliminate acrylamide, a possibly cancerous chemical activated when potatoes get fried or baked. Also, their ability to be stored at colder temperatures, plus their decrease in bruising — potatoes’ “No. 1 consumer complaint,” Simplot is quick to note — should actually create a lot less food waste.