Innovation

McDonald's Avoids GMO Potatoes Over Fears Of Confusing Customers

McDonald's Turn Down GMO Potatoes
McDonald's announces it will not use GMO potatoes even though they're safer for consumption. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

McDonald’s is turning its back on one of its oldest business partners because of a change it's made in the chain's potatoes. Despite the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s approval of the Idaho-based J.R. Simplot’s new potato, McDonald’s is still afraid. Simplot, one of the world’s biggest agribusinesses developed its new potato to produce less acrylamide, a possible cancer-causing agent.

"McDonald's USA does not source GMO potatoes, nor do we have current plans to change our sourcing practices," the company said in a statement.

Simplot’s genetically modified Innate potato was approved for market Nov. 7, and it contains less sugar than the original. The main selling point is the potato's lower level of asparagine, which can turn into acrylamide when fried.

Simplot’s spokesman Doug Cole said the fresh potato market is set to embrace the new potato. Consumers are also predicted to get on board with the changes the company made with its safety in mind. Only 400 acres were grown this fall to test the different Innate varieties, which means Simplot will have to wait until after 2015’s harvest to produce them in large enough quantities. Consumer backlash is always a concern when it comes to GMOs because of the public’s general ignorance. If consumers understood more about acrylamide’s potential dangers than they did about the horror stories of GMOs, maybe they’d be more receptive.

Acrylamide is an industrial chemical released in certain foods, such as potato chips and French fries, when cooked at high temperatures. The National Cancer Institute recommends the public limit their exposure to acrylamide until proven otherwise. But the neurological damage found in factory workers shows what high levels of acrylamide can do to the human body. Researchers in the Netherlands found women with higher levels of acrylamide in their blood were at a significantly higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Regular consumption of acrylamide-containing potatoes, such as the French fries served at McDonald’s, could pose a serious health threat.

Acrylamide poses such an alarming, yet underreported threat, that the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said any level of acrylamide in foods poses a “major concern.” Of course, more research is needed to determine just how disconcerting this potato chemical really is to humans.

The potato Simplot designed was in an effort to reduce potential harm (along with engineering the potato to be resistant to bruising). Simplot has been a major supplier of McDonald’s French fries, hash browns, and any other potato products from restaurant chains like McDonald’s — so why is the Golden Arches quivering in the wake of the acronym “GMO?”

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are foods that have had a gene or species removed or added into their DNA in order to create a desired trait or characteristic. It’s a kind of selective breeding and tinkering within Mother Nature. GMOs have been around for years, and most of the time Americans have no idea when they’re eating one. (Have you bitten into a bright red apple lately?) There is a strong divide of opinions between GMO proponents and opponents. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in May companies don’t even need to label which foods are GMOs and which are untouched non-GMOs.

Some corns and soybeans have been genetically modified to resist certain pesticides and herbicides. A papaya in Hawaii is modified to resist certain viruses. Now that Simplot has done some tinkering of its own, McDonald’s worries its GMO-free status will turn a large consumer base off from its foods. But if a consumer is looking for a healthy product for the family, why would they turn to McDonald’s in the first place?

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