The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
By Jason Best
Consumers seeking to satisfy their salty snack cravings sans genetically modified ingredients may soon have to get savvier about scouting out chips and other products made without the use of GMO potatoes.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture formally approved two new types of genetically engineered potatoes.iStock
This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture formally approved two new types of genetically engineered potatoes, both of which were developed by Simplot, the Idaho-based spud giant. (A third GMO variety was previously approved by the department). Now, pending what amounts to a fairly cursory review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the company expects all three GMO strains to be available to farmers for planting next spring.
It's hardly an exaggeration to say that over the past two decades, the agriculture industry in the U.S. has wholeheartedly embraced GMO crops with gusto. Almost all of the soy and corn grown in the U.S.—upwards of 90 percent for both crops—is genetically modified. Same goes for canola. More than half of sugar beets are also grown from GMO seeds.
The same cannot be said for potatoes. Indeed, field tests of an early GMO potato variety sparked one of the first protests against the technology back in the late 1980s and the industry remained largely GMO-free. It was just last year that the potato industry began planting a GMO variety on a commercial scale, a cultivar also developed by Simplot and named White Russet.
The three new varieties—Ranger Russet, Atlantic and Russet Burbank—all follow that first generation in that they are designed to minimize bruising and black spots, as well as reduce the amount of a chemical that is potentially carcinogenic that develops when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures. The trio of 2.0 cultivars have also been engineered to resist the pathogen that causes late blight, the disease that led to the great Irish potato famine in the mid-19th century and for "enhanced cold storage," a trait that may be of particular interest to potato chip makers, according to The Associated Press.
"We obviously are very proud of these," a Simplot spokesperson told the AP. The company says it only used genes from other potatoes to create its GMO varieties, such as a gene from an Argentine potato that yields a natural defense to blight.
As agro-tech companies have done since the dawn of the GMO revolution, Simplot is touting a promise that its GMO spuds will allow farmers to dramatically reduce the amount of chemical pesticides they're forced to spray—in this case, by up to 45 percent. Maybe so. But there are signs that public skepticism against such claims is growing ever more widespread, like the fact that the damning results of a New York Times investigation published last weekend under the not-so-subtle headline Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops shot to the top of the newspaper's list of most-emailed articles.
The Times takes to task two of the biotech industry's dominant claims about the need for GMO crops: First, that genetic modification is essential if we're going to grow enough food to feed the planet's burgeoning population, and second, that by engineering crops to resist common pests while withstanding application of herbicides, those crops would in turn require fewer dangerous chemical inputs.
Well, it's been 20 years since Monsanto and other companies rolled out their first GMO crops on a wide scale. So how has it all worked out? The Times compared crop yields and agrochemical use in Canada and the U.S.—where, as mentioned, GMO crops are widely grown—with those in Western Europe, where greater public hostility toward the technology led to many GMO crops being banned. The investigation found farmers in North America seem to have "gained no discernible advantage in yields" through their adoption of genetically engineered crops. Yet herbicide use among U.S. farmers has risen by 21 percent; in France it has fallen by 36 percent. Although use of insecticides and fungicides has indeed dropped by a third in the U.S., it has fallen by more than double that rate in France.
As you might expect, the biotech industry strongly disputes the Times analysis, saying it relies on "cherry-picked data." Yet even Matin Qaim—an independent academic at the University of Göttingen in Germany whose work Monsanto and other companies often cite to buttress their claims—offered an assessment that wasn't exactly aligned with the industry's PR spin: "I don't consider this to be the miracle type of technology that we couldn't live without," he told the Times.
Reposted with permission from our media associate TakePart.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A colony of king penguins in Antarctica emit so much nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, in their poop that researchers went a little "cuckoo," while studying them, according to Agence France Presse, which reported on a new study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
The scientist behind Florida's widely praised coronavirus dashboard was fired Monday because she refused to "manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen," she told CBS12 News Monday.
- We Should Be Listening to Our Scientists and Experts Right Now ... ›
- You're Fired! Trump Administration Shows Experts the Door ... ›
By Douglas Broom
Rifugio Guide del Cervino is a bar and restaurant atop the Plateau Rosa, a glacial ridge in the Italian Alps. Or at least, it was. Climate change is moving it inexorably toward Switzerland as the glacier on which it sits steadily melts.
Mobile Border<p>The Rifugio has 40 guest beds and is a <a href="http://www.cerviniaicons.com/food/2018/06/rifugio-guide-del-cervino/" target="_blank">popular destination for climbers attempting the Breithorn</a> (4,164 meters, or 13,661 feet), neighbor to the Matterhorn on the Swiss border. But that's as close to Switzerland as Trucco wants his restaurant to get.</p><p>For now, COVID-19 restrictions mean the Rifugio is closed. <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-52701621" target="_blank">Italy is starting to lift its coronavirus lockdown</a>, but with bars among the businesses allowed to open, some people say <a href="https://www.skiresorts.net/skiing-social-distancing/" target="_blank">social distancing in ski resorts</a> may prove hard to implement.</p><p>In 2009, <a href="https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16854-climate-changes-europes-borders-and-the-worlds/" target="_blank">Italy and Switzerland agreed their border should be mobile</a>, shifting to accommodate changes caused by glacial melting. Movements are monitored using GPS sensors allowing the <a href="https://glacierhub.org/2020/04/30/as-the-climate-shifts-a-border-moves/" target="_blank">border to be redrawn</a> as the ice moves.</p>
Sea Levels<p>Climate change is affecting other borders around the world. In the southern U.S., <a href="http://mississippiriverdelta.org/our-coastal-crisis/land-loss/" target="_blank">rising sea levels</a> and the canalization of the Mississippi river are the culprits. Since the 1930s, Louisiana has seen more than half a million hectares of its coastal territory disappear under the waves.</p><p>As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert put it in<a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/01/louisianas-disappearing-coast" target="_blank"> a recent article for the New Yorker</a>: "If Delaware or Rhode Island had lost that much territory, the U.S. would have only forty-nine states. Every hour and a half, Louisiana sheds another football field's worth of land."</p><p>Shrinking glaciers are one of the most visible demonstrations of the effects of global warming. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the amount of ice lost since 1980 is equivalent to <a href="https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-glacier-mass-balance" target="_blank">removing a 24-meter (79-foot) slice off the top of each glacier</a>.</p><p><a href="http://climateandlife.columbia.edu/2017/05/08/the-glaciers-are-going-why-this-matters/" target="_blank">More than one-sixth of the world's population</a>, particularly in China, India and other Asian countries, depend on glaciers for drinking and irrigation water, according to scientists at Columbia University.</p><p>Global temperatures are estimated to have risen by at least 1°C (33.8 degrees F) <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">above pre-industrial levels</a>, and experts warn urgent action is needed to curb emissions. A rise above 1.5°C (34.7 degrees F) will cause <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature23878" target="_blank">glaciers in Asia</a>, for example, to shrink by two-thirds by the end of the century.</p>
- One of World's Fastest Melting Glaciers May Have Lost Largest ... ›
- Massive Mont Blanc Glacier in Danger of Collapsing Soon - EcoWatch ›
- Microplastics Found in Antarctic Sea Ice Samples for First Time ... ›
- First-of-its-Kind Study Points to Higher Levels of Ocean Microplastics ... ›
- Microplastics Are Wafting in on the Sea Breeze - EcoWatch ›
By Liz Kimbrough
The side of the road isn't usually thought of as ideal habitat. But for insects, such as butterflies and their caterpillars, the long expanses of land along roads and utility corridors add up to a considerable amount of home turf.
- Bill Nye on Glyphosate: 'We Accidentally Decimated the Monarch ... ›
- Farmers Key to Bringing Monarch Butterflies Back From the Brink of ... ›
- Monarch Butterfly Populations Are Plummeting - EcoWatch ›
By Jared Kaufman
This Friday, May 22, marks the International Day for Biological Diversity. Every year, the United Nations uses this day as an opportunity both to celebrate the Earth's stunning biodiversity and to recognize our task to protect it.
- 12 Antioxidant-Rich Foods to Boost Your Immune System - EcoWatch ›
- Boost Your Immune System With Fermented Vegetables - EcoWatch ›