The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


Economic and Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Potatoes

A A Araji,
J F Guenthner
University of Idaho,

The potato, along with maize, rice and wheat, is one of the four major food crops in the world. Since potatoes produce more calories per hectare and more protein per hectare than the other three major crops it is an important commodity for fighting hunger in developing countries. Researchers at the International Potato Center in Peru predict that third world potato use will more than double by 2020. Potatoes are also popular in developed countries, with per capita consumption exceeding 100 kg per year in some European countries.

Potato production is risky and input intensive. Since potato growers plant tubers rather than true seed, the risk of seed-borne disease is substantial. This vegetative propagation method means that each potato plant is a clone of the mother plant and diseases are easily passed and spread to succeeding generations. Farmers rely on pesticides to protect potato crops from a multitude of pests. Potato growers in the United States apply about 70 million pounds of pesticides each year. Growers and consumers are interested in potato production practices that use fewer pesticides, are environmentally friendly and produce ample supplies of potatoes at low costs. Planting potatoes that have been genetically modified to resist pests is a practice that offers hope to growers around the world.

Monsanto developed the first genetically modified potato approved for commercial markets. Known as NewLeaf Russet Burbank, the potato includes a protein from a naturally occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiengsis (Bt) that controls Colorado Potato Beetle (Leptinotars decemlieata). Monsanto’s next product, NewLeaf Plus, was genetically modified to control potato leafroll virus (PLRV) which is commonly spread by the Green Peach Aphid (Myzus persicae). PLRV can cause net necrosis, a serious potato quality problem. Monsanto and other public and private researchers are trying to genetically modify potatoes to control other pests such as potato late blight (Phytophthera infestans) and nematodes. Public acceptance has slowed the marketing of the existing and yet to be developed genetically-modified potatoes.

The objective of this project is to estimate the value of genetically altered potatoes. The analytical tool is a benefit-cost model with a probability distribution that will assess the economic impacts and environmental impacts of genetically altered potatoes. Expert opinion from potato scientists in the United States provides much of the data for the model. Potato experts provide information regarding the reduced use of pesticides, changes in production practices, impacts on yields and changes in potato quality that could be attributed to potatoes that are genetically altered to control various potato problems. One example is that CPB-resistant potatoes can provide Maine growers with $230 per acre in economic benefits due to reduced pesticide use, lower costs and higher revenue. Overall results suggest that the potato industry and society in general would gain significant benefits if genetically altered potatoes were adopted by growers and accepted by consumers.

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