'Safe and nutritious': FDA approves new genetically engineered potatoes and apples
Girl eating a caramel apple (Shutterstock)

Potatoes that are genetically engineered to withstand bruising and produce less of a harmful chemical when fried, along with two kinds of browning-resistant apples were approved for the US market Friday.

"These foods are as safe and nutritious as their conventional counterparts," read a statement by the Food and Drug Administration.

The ruling applies to six varieties of potatoes, known by the trade name Innate potatoes, genetically engineered by J. R. Simplot Company in Idaho.

The potatoes not only resist bruising, they also produce less acrylamide, a chemical that can form in some foods during high-temperature cooking or frying, and has been found to be carcinogenic in lab rats.

The FDA also approved two kinds of apples engineered to resist browning from cuts and bruises, known as Arctic apples, made by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Inc. in Canada.

The FDA said it "has no additional food safety questions at this time concerning food from these plant varieties," after a review of the data that included safety and nutritional information provided by the companies that make the products.

"The consultation process includes a review of information provided by a company about the nature of the molecular changes and the nutritional composition of the food compared to traditionally bred varieties," said Dennis Keefe, director of the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety.

"This case-by-case safety evaluation ensures that food safety issues are resolved prior to commercial distribution."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, said in a statement that the potatoes and tomatoes are not believed to pose food safety or environmental risks, and noted that they were made by manipulating DNA from within their species to make them more useful to consumers.

"That said, the process for allowing such new crops is badly flawed," CSPI biotechnology director Gregory Jaffe said.

"What has happened in the case of these two products is a voluntary consultation 'encouraged' by the FDA. No regulatory process should have to rely on the voluntary acquiescence by the regulated party."

He urged Congress to pass a law requiring "new biotech crops to undergo a rigorous and mandatory approval process before foods made from those crops reach the marketplace."