The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has approved for commercial planting a new variety of potato genetically engineered (GE) for low acrylamide and reduced black spot bruise. The potatoes in question use a technique known as RNA interference to silence genes involved in bruising and the production of acrylamide, which USDA defines as “a human neurotoxicant and potential carcinogen that may form in potatoes and other starchy foods under certain cooking conditions.”

Submitted by J. R. Simplot Co., the petition for Innate™ potatoes (E12, E24, F37, J3, J55, J78, G11, H37, and H50) underwent plant and environmental risk assessments as well as a review period that generated more than 40,000 public comments—many of them identical—raising concerns about “potential effects on conventional potato production, export markets, and plant fitness.” After reviewing all available data, APHIS issued a final environmental assessment with a finding of no significant impact. The agency also concluded that Innate™ potatoes “are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk and therefore are no longer subject to our regulations governing the introduction of certain GE organisms.”

Meanwhile, consumer groups such as the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Food & Water Watch have urged restaurants and fast food chains to reject the spuds, arguing that RNA interference is not well understood. “This is supposed to be very specific to the gene that you are targeting to turn off. But other genes in the plant may also be turned off in the process. Sometimes it’s of no consequence, but in other cases this might have unintended consequences for the farmer, for example,” one CFS spokesperson told media sources. See The New York Times, November 7, 2014; Bloomberg BNA, November 10, 2014.

In a related development, APHIS announced the availability of a petition for a determination of nonregulated status for an additional variety of Innate™ potato designated as Russet Burbank event W8, which is genetically engineered “for late blight resistance, low acrylamide potential, reduced black spot bruising, and lowered reducing sugars.” The agency will accept public comments on this petition until January 9, 2015. See Federal Register, November 10, 2014.