The future of potatoes

December 2018

GM potatoes with a little extra something for everyone are wending their way into American supermarkets. To please the potato processors, these wondrous spuds don't get black spots when bruised [1]. To satisfy French fry aficionados, they don't turn brown when they're old and fried.

To coax consumers, GM relieves them of the dread threat of 'acrylamide' carcinogen in their fries [2]. To suit farmers, they promise blight-free crops. These spuds are very novel and very uniform. They come at a cost, and with more than a few risks [3].

Uncomfortable questions about GMOs

December 2018

Twenty years and two continents apart, two scientists sounded the same warning about the same GM crop. Both were mad-keen on the promises of genetic engineering, until they looked at the results of their own experiments and changed their minds. The crop which brought about this dawning was the potato [1].

In Scotland, 1998, Dr. Arpad Pusztai spoke out about the multiple adverse effects he saw in his laboratory rats fed GM spuds. In America, 2018, Dr. Caius Rommens reviewed his years of work in industry creating thousands of GMOs: he realised his "almost daily experience" was that "most GMO varieties were stunted, chlorotic (yellowed), mutated, or sterile, and many of them died quickly, like prematurely-born babies".

Rommens is now very clear that real scientists are people who love to study the natural world, not to modify it. Those who call themselves 'scientists' today spend their days staring at computer screens, generating and analysing numbers. Their focus is on imposing a controlled predictability on the capricious natural world so as to liberate society from the erratic forces of nature. Genetic engineering is not science, nor even a profession but "the expression of distorted mind-set".

Is Pandora a myth?

December 2018

'Pandora's Potatoes' might seem an odd name for a book examining the scientific reality of the GM potatoes now in American supermarkets. Its author, Caius Rommens, and creator of these very spuds, chose the name because, once he had detached himself from the biotech industry and reviewed his past work and the scientific literature, he identified concerns he simply hadn't been able to see before.

Primarily, he noticed the extent of unintended effects in his novel potatoes [1,2]. He realised his GM creations had hidden issues and, just like the contents of Pandora's Box (which should never have been opened), would unleash sickness, death and lots of unexpected evils in the world.

The second part of the book's title is even more intriguing: 'The Worst GMOs'.

Acrylamide in potatoes

December 2018

One of the hot issues in 2002 was the discovery of 'acrylamide' in food, especially in potatoes.

This wasn't good news because the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies acrylamide as Group 2A, 'probably carcinogenic to humans'. The main evidence for this is that, at high doses and in pure chemical form, acrylamide causes cancer in laboratory animals. It's linked to a whole stack of other toxic effects too, but it's the carcinogenic one that regulators struggle with most because of the difficulty in defining the actual risk and in setting a 'safe' dose.

Stay-white GM spuds

December 2018

When genetic engineer whizz-kid, Caius Rommens put his mind to enhancing the potato-experience for all spud-users from farm to factory to fork, he homed in on the annoying black patches which often sully the whiteness of the perfect potato.

The black areas are caused by the presence of a black pigment made by the potato itself, so the remedy was obvious: pop in a bit of artificial DNA which would switch off one of the genes the potato needed to create the black stuff.

Thus were born, 'Innate' stay-white spuds which don't bruise when harvested from the field, nor when they're trucked to the shops or factories, nor when they're streaming through a processing machine. Users don't have to spend time, energy and money cutting out all those black bits, and there's less waste at every level of the bruising supply chain.

All this sounds like a GM fairy-tale ending, and it might have been except that ...

A brief history of GM potatoes

December 2018

After the damp-squib of the earliest attempt to market a GM vegetable, the 'Flav Savr' tomato, all the signs were that the humble potato was going to be the real cheerleader for fresh, recognisable biotech food.