FUTURE OF GM POTATOES IN NA

Published online: Jun 23, 2011 Potato Storage, Potato Harvesting, Herbicide, Irrigation, Fertilizer, Insecticide, Fungicide, Seed Potatoes, Potato Equipment
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It's only a matter of time before genetically modified potatoes hit the North American market, say industry experts.

"I think GM potatoes are on a one-way street toward acceptance in North America and the world," says Joe Guenthner, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Idaho.

GM potatoes are following a typical technology-acceptance pattern. After a long introduction stage, with a false start in the 1990s, GM potatoes will soon approach a rapid growth phase, explains Guenthner. Other food technology, such as microwave ovens and artificial sweeteners, had long introductory phases before acceptance became rapid, he notes.

Both public and private researchers are active in GM potato development in North America, says Guenthner. "Some are working on traits attractive to growers, such as late blight resistance. And some researchers are working on traits that are beneficial to consumers, such as low acrylamides."

Alan Schreiber, president of Agriculture Development Group Inc. in Washington State, says offering GM potatoes with obvious benefits to consumers may also smooth the way for the acceptance of these products in North America.

"I think one of the huge missteps that biotech made in the roll-out of most or all of the early crops was the value to the crops was to the grower, and largely centered around reducing costs or pest pressure. There was no direct or obvious benefit to the consumer," he says. "If the early biotech crops would have increased vitamins in potatoes-something that had a benefit to the consumer-I believe we would not have seen the kind of opposition we did. We are going to be seeing crops coming that have more direct benefits to consumers, and I think consumers and activists will have less room and desire to fight the technology."

Plant molecular biologist Gefu Wang-Pruski has been studying potatoes for approximately 15 years, and is currently leading a program called the Maritime Potato Consortium, which is comprised of four major areas: tuber quality, tuber nutrition and health benefits, developing new disease control systems, and the potato consumer initiative.

Wang-Pruski, who's also a professor at Nova Scotia Agricultural College, feels consumer concern about GM potatoes is not as strong as it was 10 years ago because most consumers have realized that many other food products are genetically modified.

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