By Matt McIntosh
Genetic tweaks can drastically reduce food waste post-harvest
Food waste is a major issue worldwide. It can happen on the farm, while food is being transported, or during processing – but in countries like Canada, most food waste is generated after products reach retail shelves and home kitchens.
It’s a big problem that scientists and food companies are trying to solve, by developing crops which are more durable and resilient from the field right through to the plate.
The numerous varieties of Innate® potatoes are examples of these exciting new crops.
What is the Innate Potato?
The Innate® potato is, generally speaking, designed to reduce food waste by being more durable. It was developed by the American company J.R. Simplot.
For farmers, the ‘Cultivate’ variety of Innate® potatoes has strong resistance to “blackspot bruising” – a term used to describe damage inflicted to potatoes as they are harvested and transported. For those processing or cooking potatoes, it takes much longer to turn brown once cut (something which can start happening within minutes in other varieties of the crop).
J.R. Simplot is also developing other Innate® potato varieties with traits such as disease resistance and improved storage ability.
Why was it made?
Is bruising and browning really a problem? Yes, particularly for anyone selling potatoes in the fresh vegetable market.
Brown or bruised potatoes do not look good and are thus harder (or impossible) to sell, even though they are still safe and suitable to eat. People at the grocery store or vegetable stand generally won’t buy them, nor will they buy processed products with what is perceived to be an ‘off’ colour. Bruising can also shorten shelf life. Neither thing is good for those selling potatoes and potato products, whether at the farm, processing, or retail level.
Like so many food items, the less pristine the potato, the more likely it will be discarded.
But if it is less susceptible to bruising, more of the crop is likely to make it to the food processor, or store shelves, in good condition.
The volumes of food waste from potatoes and other popular culinary items are not insignificant, either.
According to Value Chain Management International, about 11 million tonnes of all the food produced in Canada annually becomes avoidable food loss or waste – food that could have been eaten, but was instead landfilled, incinerated or managed as organic waste (i.e. compost). Fruits and vegetables, including potatoes, are estimated to comprise about 40 per cent of that number.
How was it made?
The non-browning, more durable traits expressed in the Cultivate variety of the Innate® potato come from other pre-existing potato varieties. The new potato genes were introduced by scientists at Simplot through genetic modification. J.R. Simplot uses several types of technology to develop the different varieties of potatoes.
How was it approved?
The Innate® potato was approved for cultivation, consumption, and sale in the United States in 2015, then in Canada the following year. The Canadian approval happened after Health Canada evaluated the safety and nutrition of Innate® potato for human consumption. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) assessed its safety and nutrition for use as a livestock feed, as well as whether it posed an environmental risk. These are standard procedures taken before any new crop is approved for production.
Health Canada and the CFIA considered many factors before deeming the Innate® potato safe for the environment and consumption. Some of those factors include the potential impact of gene flow to related plants after it is introduced to the natural environment, biodiversity impact, whether it posed any risks to human health, and the nutritional value.
According to the CFIA’s webpage on the Innate® potato, “the Government of Canada will only authorize a product for use as food, for use as livestock feed, and for release into the environment, if, after a thorough scientific assessment, it is determined to be as safe as its conventional counterparts.” More information about the Innate® potato, and how it was approved by the federal government, is available here.