Headline #1: Potatoes Cause Cancer.
Headline #2: GMO Potato Eliminates Cancer Risk
Before I get my come comeuppance from my statistics guru, Dr. Ilya Lipkovich, I admit I have imagined these headlines created by sensational journalists. They make a point, however, one that is seldom realized in the popular press or among my fellow environmentalists. Yes, many chemicals created by humankind can cause cancer. The reverse is also true—that many chemicals nature puts in our foods also rate as cancer causing, and they can be eliminated by genetic modification.
Let’s talk potatoes. The great virtue of the potato is that it survives well in cool storage. My Russian landlady used to hoard 50 lb sacks in her basement. The Andes where the potato originated is cool country and unless there is too much moisture and temps are too warm, potatoes can be harvested as needed during the non-growing season. Here in Oregon in March I dug up potatoes that matured in September. I know now that I was eating a lot of natural carcinogen. So are you when you eat French fries or most store bought potatoes.
The world consumes some 300 million tons of such potatoes—a lot of carcinogen. That carcinogen, is acrylamide. Somewhat oversimplified, here is the essence. In cold storage the potato’s starch begins its transformation into sugars. When we cook these potatoes at temperatures above 250 F free amino acids and the sugars form acrylamide and it is especially high in fries and chips. Ranger Russet to the Rescue. If you want potatoes without the cancer, your best choice soon will be a GMO potato.
Scientists recently discovered a gene that programs potatoes so that they produce acrylamide in cooking. To permit us to avoid nature’s unhealthy chemical, scientists have used gene editing tools to turn off the gene that causes the sugar transformation. USDA has approved planting GMO modified Ranger Russet potatoes and results should be in this year.
QUESTION: Should we require stores and farm stands selling potatoes to print a warning label saying that the potatoes are not genetically modified and can cause cancer?
(For anyone wanting to read the technical literature in a peer reviewed article, see: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.