Posted By: Wesley Chun, Ph.D. /
By Wesley Chun, Ph.D., Grower's Secret, Chief Science Officer
“Who wants French Fries?” I’ll ask. “I do!” my daughter always answers.
It doesn’t matter that we just finished dinner, there is always room for French fries. While over 9 million pounds of French fries are sold worldwide by McDonald's, it was not always such a popular item. French fries were first introduced into the U.S. by Thomas Jefferson after his service as the French ambassador. French fries gained in popularity when returning WWI troops brought their hankering for the fries that they ate when stationed in France and Belgium. Today, 29 out of 135 pounds of potatoes that the average American consumes each year are French fries. That is equivalent to 77 large packages of fries. Nutritionally, a potato is high in antioxidants, vitamins B6 and C, and carotenoids. A medium sized spud contains 628 mg of potassium, more than a banana and yet, packs just 110 calories.
“Would you rather eat potatoes or fries from plants that you know received at least 50% less fungicides than what is normally used?”
While the standard potato is safe to eat, there are a few folks who are concerned over the use of pesticides to control insects, weeds and pathogens. Potatoes are susceptible to a deadly fungal pathogen called Phytophthora infestans. The disease it causes, late blight, is so severe that it can cause near total crop destruction, the most notable being the Great Famine or Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849). There are no immune potato varieties except for moderately tolerant Frito-Lay varieties and Pike. In blight years, chlorothalonil products, Revus products, and Ridomil-based products (for US-23 genotype) are used. Headline and Quadris are also used with strict application adherence. If blight is detected in the field, the entire infected section plus a 30 row, 100 ft long border beyond the furthest observed late blight lesion is destroyed with Regline or Gramoxone. In less conducive environmental conditions, chlorothalonil, EBDC, sometimes TPTH, and copper-based products are used to lower infection risks.
“Would you rather eat potatoes that have up to 90% less acrylamide when baked or fried?”
High levels of acrylamide can cause cancer in laboratory animals. While there is no evidence of a similar effect in humans, the EPA considers acrylamide likely to be carcinogenic based on lab animal studies. When food is cooked at high temperatures, sugars and asparagine combine to form acrylamides. Frying causes the highest level of acrylamide formation. French fries and potato chips have the highest level of acrylamide. Storing potatoes in the refrigerator can actually increase the amount of acrylamide produced when cooked.
“Isn’t there a better potato to cook and eat?”
The answer is here. J. R. Simplot just released new varieties of the popular Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet, and Atlantic that are resistant to infection by Phytophthora infestans. They cleverly used gene silencing to silence two genes that are involved in turning starch into sugars when potatoes are stressed (harvested) or when stored in the cold. Gene silencing is general term that describes suppression of gene activity either at the transcription (mRNA production from DNA template) or translation (protein production from mRNA template). The DNA used was found in wild potato plants. These resistant varieties will require less fungicides to control late blight (good for the environment/good for you). The potatoes from these varieties can be stored in the refrigerator. They do not bruise or show internal dark spots, and has been approved by the FDA and EPA. Best of all, these potatoes have 90% less acrylamide when baked or fried.
“Would you consider eating GMO fries?”
Gene technology was used to insert naturally occurring potato DNA into potato plants. The result was superior potato varieties that are late blight resistant (less pesticides needed), lower in sugars produced from starch (less acrylamides when cooked), and store longer in the refrigerator (less waste). You still have a choice, conventionally produced potatoes, organically produced potatoes or the new generation of potatoes. I for one have no qualms about eating fries made from these new varieties.