potatoesEnvironmentalists are urging McDonald’s to not use -- for its fries -- a new genetically engineered (GE) potato developed by its leading potato supplier.

Advocacy group Food & Water Watch delivered a letter to the fast food giant last month signed by more than 100,000 Americans, urging McDonald’s to reject the use of the “Innate” brand GE potato developed by J.R. Simplot. The Innate is currently up for approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

According to Food & Water Watch, the five varieties of Simplot’s potatoes pending approval have reduced black spot bruising and are less likely to produce the chemical acrylamide when fried (some studies have linked acrylamide to cancer). These potatoes will be used as frozen fries, potato chips and shoestrings, which make up approximately 50 percent of the potato market in the United States, according to the company.

McDonald’s, which controls 15 percent of the fast-food market, is the largest purchaser of potatoes in the U.S. According to a 2009 Associated Press article, the company buys more than 3.4 billion pounds of potatoes annually.

In response to a request by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, the restaurant chain earlier announced “no plans” to use a genetically engineered “Arctic” apple in its menu offerings.

“While it’s a step on the right direction for McDonald’s to say they currently don’t have plans to use the genetically engineered apple, apples are small potatoes compared to the amount of potatoes McDonald’s uses on a daily basis,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch and author of the book Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America.

“If this new GE potato is approved, McDonald’s has the power to make it ubiquitous and consumers will never know that the fries in their kids’ Happy Meal contain DNA genetically altered in a lab.”

The group submitted more than 40,000 comments to the USDA in July encouraging them not to approve the potato. However, if the USDA’s Environmental Assessment finds no significant impact (FONSI) from the GE potatoes, there would be only more opportunity for public comment before its approval.

“Poll after poll shows that consumers want to know whether or not their food is genetically engineered,” said Hauter.

The letter to McDonald’s can be found here: http://fwwat.ch/NoGMOpotatoMcDletter