Pota­toes ‘safe to eat’

Ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered by an Idaho com­pany

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FEATURES -

Three types of pota­toes ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered by an Idaho com­pany to re­sist the pathogen that caused the Ir­ish potato famine are safe for the en­vi­ron­ment and safe to eat, Cana­dian of­fi­cials have said.

The ap­proval by Health Canada and the Cana­dian Food In­spec­tion Agency means the J.R. Sim­plot Co. pota­toes can be im­ported, planted and sold in Canada.

The com­pany said it re­ceived ap­proval let­ters from Health Canada and the Cana­dian Food In­spec­tion Agency in the last sev­eral days. Health Canada spokes­woman Renelle Briand con­firmed the ap­provals to The As­so­ci­ated Press on Thurs­day.

“We have no ob­jec­tion to the sale of food de­rived from J.R. Sim­plot Com­pany’s” pota­toes for hu­man con­sump­tion, Karen McIntyre, direc­tor gen­eral of Health Canada, said in a let­ter sent on July 28 to the com­pany.

Cana­dian of­fi­cials in two other let­ters sent on Mon­day ap­proved the en­vi­ron­men­tal re­lease of plant­ing the pota­toes and us­ing the pota­toes for live­stock feed. Mis­shapen pota­toes not con­sid­ered top qual­ity are used to feed live­stock.

The three va­ri­eties of potato - the Rus­set Bur­bank, Ranger Rus­set and At­lantic - were ap­proved by U.S. reg­u­la­tory agen­cies in Fe­bru­ary.

The ap­proval by Canada means the two na­tions can im­port and ex­port with each other the pota­toes that con­tain a gene re­sis­tant to late blight that led to the Ir­ish potato famine.

The com­pany said the pota­toes con­tain only potato genes and that the re­sis­tance to late blight comes from an Ar­gen­tine va­ri­ety of potato that nat­u­rally pro­duced a de­fence.

J.R. Sim­plot spokesman Doug

Cole said the com­pany has been do­ing ex­per­i­men­tal field tri­als in three Cana­dian provinces: Man­i­toba, On­tario and Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

Farm­ers on Prince Ed­ward Is­land suc­cess­fully grow Rus­set Bur­bank pota­toes, Cole said, but the wet cli­mate makes late blight a prob­lem. A potato with re­sis­tance to late blight could help.

“There’s strong in­ter­est from farm­ers to get that potato with that trait so they can spray less and have a bet­ter qual­ity crop,” Cole said.

There is no ev­i­dence that ge­net­i­cally

mod­i­fied or­gan­isms, known as GMOs, are un­safe to eat, but chang­ing the ge­netic code of foods presents an eth­i­cal is­sue for some. McDon­ald’s de­clines to use Sim­plot’s ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered pota­toes for its French fries.

Sim­plot of­fi­cials said the pota­toes also have re­duced bruis­ing and black spots, en­hanced stor­age ca­pac­ity and a lower amount of a chem­i­cal that’s a po­ten­tial car­cino­gen and is cre­ated when pota­toes are cooked at high tem­per­a­tures.

Pota­toes are con­sid­ered the fourth food sta­ple crop in the

world be­hind corn, rice and wheat. Late blight, which rot­ted en­tire crops and led to the deaths of about a mil­lion Ir­ish in the 1840s, is still a ma­jor prob­lem for potato grow­ers, es­pe­cially in wet­ter re­gions.

Fungi­cides have been used for decades to pre­vent the blight. Sim­plot said the ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered pota­toes re­duce the use of fungi­cide by half.

The most re­cent Canada and U.S. ap­provals ap­ply to Sim­plot’s sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of In­nate pota­toes. The first gen­er­a­tion didn’t in­clude pro­tec­tion from late blight or en­hanced cold

stor­age. The com­pany said the pota­toes have the same taste, tex­ture and nu­tri­tional qual­i­ties as con­ven­tional pota­toes.

Pro­duc­tion of the first gen­er­a­tion pota­toes started with 400 acres (162 hectares) in 2015, jumped to 1,000 acres (405 hectares) in 2016 and 6,000 acres (2,428 hectares) this year.

Those pota­toes are now avail­able in 40 states and 4,000 su­per­mar­kets, Cole said, with about 60 mil­lion pounds (27.2 mil­lion kilo­grams) sold.

“We are pleased with sales in the U.S. and hope they will con­tinue,” he said.

AP PHOTO

This Aug. 8, 2016 photo pro­vided by the J.R. Sim­plot Com­pany shows Sim­plot Plant Sciences’ In­nate Gen­er­a­tion 2 ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered pota­toes at the Michi­gan State Univer­sity field that have that sur­vived af­ter be­ing in­fected with late blight dis­ease, that led to the Ir­ish potato famine, in East Lans­ing, Mich. Cana­dian of­fi­cials said three types of pota­toes ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered by an Idaho com­pany to re­sist the pathogen that caused the famine are safe for the en­vi­ron­ment and safe to eat. The ap­proval con­firmed by Health Canada of­fi­cials on Thurs­day, Aug. 3, 2017, means the J.R. Sim­plot Co. pota­toes can be im­ported, planted and sold in Canada.

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