A new potato has been genetically modified to produce less of a potentially cancer-causing chemical when fried.

The Innate potato, which was just approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for commercial planting, produces up to 70% less acrylamide, a chemical that is emitted when potatoes are fried to make such snacks as French fries and potato chips. The chemical causes cancer in rodents and is a suspected human carcinogen. The potato, whose “innate” DNA has been altered, also resists bruising.


According to the privately held business that developed it — Boise, Idaho-based J.R. SImplot Co. — “The technique works with the potato’s own DNA to achieve desirable traits without incorporating any foreign genes.” Simplot was the first supplier of French fries to McDonald’s and remains one of the chain’s major suppliers. There will be no difference in taste, size or texture compared to regular potatoes, Simplot food scientists say. 

With 40% less bruising, the company estimates that Innate will reduce annual potato waste by 400 million pounds in the food service and retail industries and a significant portion of the estimated three billion pounds discarded by consumers.

Simplot applied for approval of the Innate potato to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in 2013. The submission was also reviewed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. Field trials of the potato were conducted from 2009 through 2011 in eight states – Florida, Indiana, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin. The USDA announced its approval November 7, and the potatoes should be on the market by next spring, after the FDA completes its review process. 

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More than 90 percent of U.S. soybeans and about 89 percent of U.S. corn are genetically altered, for herbicide tolerance or other traits. Genetically modified potatoes were tried – and failed — in the late 1990s, when Monsanto began selling potatoes genetically engineered to resist the Colorado potato beetle. But big potato users, fearing consumer resistance, told farmers not to grow them. Simplot, developer of the new potato, after hearing from its fast-food chain customers, told its farmers to stop growing the Monsanto potatoes. But they are hopeful that the Innate potato will succeed because it has a purported health benefit rather than harboring a feared health risk.

Simplot is already working on a second generation of biotech potatoes will store better and reduce acrylamide by up to 90%. The company is also working on Potato Virus Y, improved late blight resistance and increasing other consumer health traits like increased vitamins and nutrients.

Although whether we should be trying to figure out ways for people to eat more French fries and potato chips is another question altogether.

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