New genetically engineered potato approved for Canada

The general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada thinks both consumers and Island farmers will find advantages with a genetically engineered potato just approved for sale in Canada this week.

Benefits for Island farmers, consumers, says potato growers group

The new Innate potato was engineered by an Idaho company, J.R. Simplot. (Submitted by J.R. Simplot)

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency gave the green light to a new genetically modified potato on Monday.

Innate potatoes are engineered to reduce bruising and black spots and to stop them from browning. They were created by the company J.R. Simplot in Idaho.

Potatoes that don't brown if they're pre-cut will be an advantage for chip trucks, fast food businesses and other restaurants, according to MacIsaac. (Hand out photo, J.R. Simplot )

That resulted in trials that showed 15 per cent fewer of these genetically modified potatoes had to be thrown away by farmers, according to Kevin MacIsaac of the United Potato Growers of Canada.

"It's a big deal," he said. "One of the ultimate aims of growers of course is to reduce the waste and reduce the cullage and any way you can do that, it puts more marketable potatoes in the bag or in the pot which is what you get paid for. You don't get paid for the cullage, so that's all good."

The company emphasizes no foreign genes have been used to create the genetically engineered variety. Genes from wild and cultivated potatoes were added to a conventional potato to create the new variety

Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada, says the Innate potato should reduce the amount of waste in each crop. (CBC)

Consumers should find the "no browning" quality a plus as well, said MacIsaac.

"An issue in the chip wagons and fast food industry and restaurants is that if you want to use potatoes to peel them or cut them you have to do that almost immediately before they're served or store them in water so that they will not turn brown," explained MacIsaac. "I've talked to some people in the U.S. who have done this. They can actually cut the potatoes the day before, the night before and they're still very appealing to the consumer, and they look good and taste good."

Potatoes grown in trials in P.E.I.

J.R. Simplot has confirmed Innate potatoes have been grown in trials in P.E.I. for the past few years, but the company doesn't want to share hard figures for the 2016 growing season at this time because it could change quickly as the planting season approaches.

The company initially plans to contract growers willing to only grow Innate potatoes in their fields to reduce the risk of cross-contamination with other spuds, said MacIsaac.

There's also a second generation version of the Innate potato being developed that requires less water, so they can be grown in drought-prone areas.

A generation 2 Innate potato is also being developed, which the company says will be more resistant to blight. (Submitted by JR Simplot)
They will also include a gene for blight resistance, something MacIsaac said he and the PEI Potato Board are excited about.

It would mean less pesticides would be required to keep the potatoes free of blight, particularly helpful given P.E.I.'s issues with late blight.

The generation two potatoes could be approved in the U.S. by December of this year, according to J.R. Simplot.

With files from Laura Chapin