Health Canada, CFIA approve sale of genetically engineered potato

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An first generation Innate Russet Burbank potato, left, sits next to a conventional Russet Burbank potato after peeling in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO – J.R. Simplot Company

TORONTO – Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have approved a genetically engineered potato for sale, said a U.S.-based company on Monday in announcing that its non-browning spuds could be in Canadian supermarkets by Thanksgiving.

J.R. Simplot Company was notified by both agencies in letters dated March 18 that it could sell its potatoes – which purportedly are less likely to bruise or turn brown when cut – to consumers or for livestock consumption.

Simplot, based in Boise, Idaho, says the Innate potato has the same nutritional composition of regular potatoes plus reduced asparagine. This amino acid found in many starchy foods produces acrylamide, suspected to be a human carcinogen. Potatoes naturally produce the chemical when they’re cooked at high temperatures above 120 C (250 F).

High levels of acrylamide have been found in french fries, potato chips, cookies, coffee, processed cereals and bread, the Canadian Cancer Society says on its website. Health Canada is studying the levels of acrylamide in the food we eat.

“Our potato cuts acrylamide up to 62 per cent and a future generation will take it up to 90 per cent, making it virtually negligible, which is a really big deal in the potato world,” says Doug Cole, director of marketing and communications for Simplot.

The company says it uses biotechnology to remove the browning and bruising traits from a typical potato but does not use foreign genes.

“Consumers throw away about 30 per cent of their potatoes either due to bruising or sprouting, so we’ve solved the bruising problem,” says Cole. “When people cut into an ugly black spot they generally think the potato’s spoiled and they discard it.”

But the potatoes will not have a label indicating they are genetically engineered, as that’s not a Health Canada requirement provided they’ve been deemed safe for consumption. In the U.S., the Innate packaging includes a website and QR code for consumers to seek more information.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture cleared the first generation of the Innate potato in 2014, with the Food and Drug Administration following about a year ago. It’s been sold in the U.S. since last May under the White Russet brand and is available in supermarkets and for food service.

The potatoes could be grown in Canada this season and be in stores by the fall.

Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of United Potato Growers of Canada, believes there will be commercial interest in the Innate potatoes. If peeling potatoes in advance of cooking, they need to be covered in cold water with a little vinegar or lemon juice added to avoid browning.

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