Campaign to block McDonald’s healthier GM french fries threatens next generation consumer friendly GM foods

| December 4, 2013 |
Image via John E Kelly/Getty Image via John E Kelly/Getty

The biotech company Simplot is marketing its GM potato as a healthier and more environmentally friendly choice. The potatoes have reduced black spots from bruising–which means more potatoes could be marketable every year, reducing waste–and they are safer to fry because they produce less asparagine, an amino acid that can become carcinogenic when it reacts with sugar.

The emerging debate over the Simplot potato highlights a growing divide over GM technology, writes Marc Gunther, editor at large of the Sustainable Business section at the Guardian. Despite clear health and environmental benefits, several anti-biotech groups, including Food and Water Watch and the Center for Food Safety, are urging McDonald’s to reject the GM potato, alleging serious health risks.

Sorting through these claims and counter-claims about the risks and benefit of genetic engineering is difficult, even for an informed layman. That’s one of the problems with the GMO debate: It gets emotional very quickly and often comes down to questions of trust. Here the anti-GMO forces have an advantage. They can position themselves as consumer advocates – public interest groups, if you will. By comparison, the companies that favor GMOs are seen as self-interested and lacking credibility. Government regulators also, generally, don’t inspire trust.

Companies seeking regulatory approval for genetically modified potoatoes, salmon and apples have run into some opposition from anti-GMO NGOs, conventional farmers who fear their brand might be tarnished and opportunistic organic-focused retailers like Whole Foods Market. If these second generation GM products–innovations focused on meeting consumer needs rather than making production more efficient for farmers—fail in the marketplace, companies will be loathe to invest further in plant biotechnology.

McDonald’s already uses GM corn and oil from GM soybeans, not to mention the GM corn and soy that feeds the cows that become its burgers. A spokeswoman for McDonald’s says that their decision to use the GM potatoes will be guided by “food, industry and regulatory experts.” Haven Baker, Simplot’s vice president of plant science, is confident that the US Department of Agriculture will conduct a thorough review and that a Food and Drug Administration review is underway to deliver an “important endorsement of food safety.”

If McDonald’s is guided by science, Gunther writes, it should embrace the GM potatoes. But “for better or worse, consumer attitudes will factor into the company’s decision.”

Read the full, original story here: McDonald’s GMO dilemma: why fries are causing such a fuss

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  • First Officer

    Worth repeating.

    I don’t know why McDonald’s, and any other fast food chain, would give these groups the time of day anymore. Several times, in the past, anti-gmo groups have threatened them with boycotts and detrimental ads if they don’t bow to their wishes. The fast food chains complied and what do the anti-gmo groups do? Bad mouth and post detrimental ads and avoid fast food chains anyway.

    Clearly, McDonald’s, et al, have nothing to lose in accepting GM whatever and everything to gain. I, for one, will get in line at Mickee-Dees the day McDonald’s does accept GM potatoes

  • SILENTSAM69

    Anti-GMO nuts are as bad as anti-vaccination nuts. It is sad how much anti-science is spreading, and how they make use of the technology that science has provided to do so.

  • Bill Pilacinski

    It isn’t the first time these food bullies have intimidated McDonalds. NatureMark potatoes were insect and virus resistant, but McDonalds buckled and farmers wouldn’t grow a product that McDonalds wouldn’t buy so we all now have to eat potatoes with more insecticide residues.