The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved commercial planting of a potato that is genetically modified and engineered so as to reduce the amounts of a potentially harmful ingredient in french fries and potato chips. The potato’s DNA has been altered so that less of a chemical called acrylamide, which is suspected of causing cancer in people, is produced when the potato is fried.
Moreover the new potato also resists bruising, a feature long sought by potato growers and processors out of financial reasons. Potatoes damaged during harvesting, shipping or storage are unusable.
The potato, called Innate potato, was developed by a privately held business J.R. Simplot Company in Boise, Idaho. The company was the first supplier of French Fries in the 1960s to McDonald’s and remains one of the hamburger chain’s major suppliers. Mr. Simplot the founder of the company died in 2008 as a billionaire.
The company says that when the Innate potatoes are fried, the levels of acrylamide are 50 to 75 percent lower than for comparable nonengineered potatoes. It is unclear how much of a benefit that is. The chemical causes cancer in rodents and is a suspected human carcinogen, though the National Cancer Institute says that scientists do not know with certainty if the levels of the chemical typically found in food are harmful to human health.