June 23, 2013. Boise. If you go to your favorite eatery and order French fries, chances are those potatoes came from the JR Simplot corporation – the largest potato company in the world. The company has created five new potato-like organisms in its laboratories and is trying to gain USDA approval to begin selling them in the US and around the world. But there’s still one week to make your voice heard.
‘It’s been more than a decade since consumer outcry forced Monsanto to take its transgenic potatoes off the market,’ writes TruthStreamMedia.com, ‘Even fast food giant McDonalds refused to sell them, telling its biggest US potato supplier JR Simplot Co. to stop growing genetically modified (GM) potatoes.’
Over the past few decades since Mr. JR Simplot ran a small western potato grower, his company has become a multi-billion dollar, multi-national food supplier. Simplot is the largest provider of potatoes to US restaurants including McDonalds. Most Americans are shocked to find out just how big the corporation is and are stunned when showed a map of Idaho and neighboring states detailing how much land Simplot owns and controls. Good luck finding that map however – its bad PR.
According to a Business Insider article from 2010, JR Simplot has become America’s 20th largest landowner. The corporation owns 355,746 acres of land. So when the corporation applied to the USDA for approval of five new laboratory-created potatoes (GMO’s), truth-in-labeling and anti-GMO advocates rallied the troops for a fight.
“The (GMO) potato, created by biotech company JR Simplot, has been altered to reduce ‘problems’ that normal potatoes have, like black-spot browning,” explains Food & Water Watch’s Jill Pape, “But altering even one enzyme in a plant can unintentionally affect other characteristics of the potato as well, meaning that there may be unintended health risks that we don't yet know about.”
McDonalds and JR Simplot
In 1967, the founders of both McDonalds and JR Simplot shook hands on a deal that changed America’s farming and restaurant landscapes forever. The two agreed that Simplot would be McDonalds’ main supplier of potatoes and the agreement has never been broken.
To put it in perspective, according to the above-referenced TruthStreamMedia.com report, McDonalds sells roughly 9,000,000 pounds of potatoes every single day. Add to that the $10 billion worth of potato chips Americans buy each year and it’s clear how impactful any genetic modification of the country’s potato plants would be.
Monsanto, the universally despised corporation at the heart of most GMO controversies these days, hasn’t escaped this latest episode either. As the above report details, ‘This scenario is all the more likely because the former president of McDonald’s USA, Janice L. Fields, is currently sitting on Monsanto’s Board of Directors. Fields served two overlapping years at both companies. With Monsanto’s status as a world leader in GM food production, McDonald’s is closely linked to the biotech industry.’
FWW’s Jill Pape warns consumers of the possible dangers saying, “The company intends to use its GE potato in processed foods like french fries and potato chips, and may even market the crop as a ‘healthier alternative’ to normal potatoes. Such advertising would be incredibly misleading, because without more testing it's impossible to know what negative effects this GE potato could have on our bodies.”
Simplot’s application for approval of its GMO potatoes is before the USDA’s division of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The agency is currently taking public comments, but will close that window on July 2, 2013. Food & Water Watch has established an automated, online Comment Form for consumers who would like to quickly and easily send their message to the USDA.
‘Genetically engineered foods are inadequately tested, and they're potentially unsafe,’ the FWW Comments Form says, ‘In the case of GE fries, that's a particular problem because they're marketed to kids. But McDonald's can help keep GE potatoes off the market, because if they won't buy it, then farmers probably won't plant it.’
McDonalds and Chipotle
At the same time McDonalds finds itself in the middle of the latest fight against genetically modified foods, its subsidiary Chipotle Mexican restaurants is also under the GMO spotlight. And if the mega-corporation’s Chipotle brand is any indication, McDonalds may just be receptive to the anti-GMO cause.
In response to pressure from its young, health-conscious, urban customers, Chipotle has just made two major announcements. First, the restaurant chain released details about its menu items – including the presence of GMO products. Second, after it was revealed that half of Chipotle’s items currently use genetically altered substances, the company assured patrons it was already in the process of removing every single GMO product from its menu.
“Our goal is to eliminate GMOs from Chipotle’s ingredients, and we’re working hard to meet this challenge,” the company’s official statement reads on the restaurant’s website, “For example, we recently switched our fryers from soybean oil to sunflower oil. Soybean oil is almost always made from genetically modified soybeans, while there is no commercially available GMO sunflower oil.”
Consumer advocates applaud Chipotle’s efforts, as well as its recent transparency and statements against GMO products. They hope the Mexican restaurant’s parent McDonalds will take the same position when it makes its upcoming decision on whether or not to switch its natural potatoes to GMO potatoes, if and when they’re eventually approved.
While Chipotle customers were relieved to hear the restaurant was acting to rid itself of GMO ingredients, many were still horrified to learn just how many of their menu items already use GMOs. Of the 24 items and ingredients listed on Chipotle’s website, 12 contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). On the positive side, 7 are labeled ‘organic’ and 6 are locally grown relative to each restaurant’s location.
Chipotle menu items/ingredients that contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), from Chipotle.com:
Readers who would like to voice their position on GMO potatoes to the USDA before the July 2 deadline for consumer comments can utilize the Food and Water Watch online form.
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