Earlier this month, the USDA approved a new GMO potato produced by the Idaho-based company Simplot.
Unlike the herbicide, insect, or virus resistant varieties today on the market, this GMO offers two tangible consumer benefits: the potatoes are less susceptible to bruising (and thus are more visually appealing and are likely to cut down on food waste) and perhaps more importantly, produces 50 to 75% less acrylamide when fried (acrylamide is a chemical suspected of causing cancer).
I've found discussion of this story interesting for at least two reasons. First, it isn't all that clear that this product should fall under the "GMO" umbrella. Genes from other species are not introduced into the potato, but rather my understanding is that the new traits are created by deactivating genes already present in the potato. In any event, it just goes to show that a GMO isn't a single thing; it is many, many possible things. And, it points to the dander of making blanket statements like "GMOs are harmful" or "GMOs are safe". One has to look at each GMO in question and see what the science says about that particular modification, and to the extent one thinks a harm is involved, articulate how the modification in question causes the particular harm claimed.
Second, news sources have suggested that McDonald's has no plans to adopt the potato, which many anti-GMO activists have interpreted as indicating that McDonald's has rejected the potato and won't use it. However, as Val Giddings points out in a post at the Innovation Files, such interpretations may be misplaced. He writes:
That brings me to the title of this post: Is McDonald's pro-cancer?. These sorts of consumer oriented biotechnology innovations are a potential game changer because they shift the terms of the debate. What possible reason could McDonald's give for continuing to use a potato known to have higher cancer risk? Some vague, scientifically unsupported concerns voiced by a small (but vocal) set of activists against GMOs? My hunch is that this is a PR battle that biotech may finally win.