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J.R. SIMPLOT COMPANY STATEMENT ON CAIUS ROMMENS’ BOOK


Oct 16, 2018


Caius Rommens, the former director of research at Simplot Plant Sciences, a division of the J.R. Simplot Company, has self-published a defamatory book about Simplot’s Innate®-branded biotech potato program. The book is filled with false and misleading statements and speculation about the development and safety of our bioengineered potato varieties. 

The J.R. Simplot Company is a privately held food and agribusiness company. We have a deep respect for the environment, and a commitment to help feed the world's growing population by finding better ways to grow safe and abundant food. We process and serve a range of high quality foods to customers around the world. We are also an innovative leader in the global potato industry. Two decades ago, for example, we were among the first commercial enterprises to use biotechnology to introduce traits into potatoes that are beneficial to farmers and consumers. 

Simplot hired Mr. Rommens in 2000 to design and lead that biotechnology program. We learned more than a decade later however that Mr. Rommens had made false statements about how he created Innate® potatoes. He subsequently resigned in January 2013. Details about this, for which he took full responsibility, can be found online in a retraction published in Plant Physiology. Mr. Rommens also acknowledged a “serious mistake” in a December 2012 letter of apology to an independent and renowned scientist who had questioned Mr. Rommens’ work. Mr. Rommens now attempts to paint these unacceptable activities as “minor” that he uncovered before deciding to quit, but this is not the case.

Simplot deleted his scientific misrepresentations from consideration in the regulatory approval process as the flaws in Mr. Rommens’ work were inexcusable. Simplot then expended substantial resources to ensure the integrity of its potato varieties and to inform the regulatory and scientific communities of what we had discovered. Importantly, Simplot did not use any of Mr. Rommens’ faulty work or misleading conclusions to ultimately gain regulatory approval for the Innate® potatoes. After rigorous regulatory review, our Innate-branded varieties received regulatory clearance from the United States Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration to whom Simplot voluntarily applied for safety review. Numerous international regulatory agencies also approved our varieties.

Specifically, Innate® potatoes were extensively tested in more than 200 separate research trials in all major potato growing regions in the U.S. and Canada and thoroughly reviewed by trained regulatory scientists and validated by multiple years of field trials by independent growers and research universities. All of our regulatory data is a matter of public record which was scrutinized during the comment periods. Our analyses were supported by 17 major potato research institutions across the world with regulatory approval in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Mexico, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. Innate® potatoes were (and are) tested to ensure they do not have a negative environmental impact, have no new allergens, and have the same safety and nutritional profile as unmodified potatoes. The potatoes have a positive impact on sustainability and on the reduction of food waste. You can learn more about these positive sustainability benefits, the science behind Innate® technology and review our FAQs at www.innatepotatoes.com.

Since his 2013 resignation, Mr. Rommens has not been part of the Innate® program and Simplot has not given him access to the scientific and agronomic research data generated for regulatory purposes. He is therefore in no position to comment on the Innate® program as it exists today. Nonetheless, Mr. Rommens has self-published a 77-page “booklet” filled with false and irresponsible claims. His book follows his attempt in March 2017 to provide Simplot with a 30-page “reassessment” of the Innate® potatoes for a fee, with the implicit warning that, if Simplot did not take him up on his offer, he would give the “reassessment” to anyone who might be interested, thus damaging Simplot’s interests. We made clear to Mr. Rommens that we were interested in any information or insights that pertained to the safety or integrity of the

Innate® potatoes, but we declined to pay him for an exclusive preview. Simplot heard nothing more until we learned last week about the publication of his book.

In it, Mr. Rommens makes numerous false statements about Simplot and the Innate® potato. Among the more egregious are the following: 

  • He stated that conventional potatoes will “soon be contaminated with GMO stock.” This is false. Innate® potatoes are never mixed with common potato varieties. We maintain a closed loop stewardship program to keep Innate® potatoes within their intended market segments. 
  • He claims consumers of Innate® potatoes “may experience serious adverse health effects” that would “send them to the emergency room.” This is not true. We vigorously tested Innate® potatoes for toxins in field trials and found them to be no different than conventional potatoes. No consumer has been sickened.
  • He also states our traits are “unstable.” This is false. Our traits are stable over many generations and in multiple varieties. 
  • He claims Innate® potatoes “contain an illegally acquired exotic gene.” This is false. We have not engaged in biopiracy. We legally obtained the potato gene in question via a license. 
  • Mr. Rommens stated we designed our Innate® potatoes to taste like “cardboard” and to “conceal” infections and bruises and undermine the health of consumers. This is not true. Our motivation was to use innovative technologies to bring new and improved high quality potatoes to farmers and consumers. 

We are a global food company and have been in business for nearly a hundred years. Our commitment to health and safety is paramount. We care deeply about consumers, farmers and our products and we hold the Company to the highest standards. We will defend our reputation and the Innate® program. Any claims that maliciously undermine the core values of our organization – Passion for People, Spirit of Innovation, and Respect for Resources – or which bring our industry and emerging technologies into disrepute will be taken seriously.