Chlorpropham (CIPC), a substance used to preserve potatoes, was banned in June 2019 by the European Commission - with a marketing authorization that expired on January 8th, 2020 - on the recommendations of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which had determined that chlorpropham and its main metabolite, 3-chloroaniline, expose consumers to acute and chronic dietary risks.
CIPC is still authorized in Canada but could be banned in the future. That’s why Agrinova’s research center for potato producers, north of Quebec, decided to call on scientists to find a substitute.
Teams of female researchers, such as Nathalie Bourdeau of Innofibre and Isabel Desgagné-Penix of the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières (UQTR), turned to the boreal forest. As explained on the site of Radio-Canada, “Michelle Boivin, student researcher at UQTR, gathers tree barks, branches and needles from the residues of the Saint-Félicien cogeneration plant in Lac-Saint-Jean, before they are burned as an energy source. The idea is to extract the molecules of interest before sending them back to the plant.”
Tests are being conducted with black spruce, yellow birch and balsam fir. After several months of experimentation, Michelle Boivin found black spruce extracts to be efficient against sprouting (branches and needles), as well as against diseases (antimicrobial properties of the bark). Large-scale testing is being conducted on potatoes stored in the research warehouses of Agrinova.
After several months of experimentation, the products tested for sprouting show results comparable to CIPC. “We observe a 94-95% sprout control efficiency. Black spruce extract is also efficient against some diseases, like soft rot caused by the Pectobacterium bacteria. The efficiency is evaluated at about 90%,” explains Sophie Massie. “In Quebec, very few products are certified to be controlled for soft rot post-harvest, when stored in the warehouses. It is therefore very good news that we may have found a promising product for this kind of disease.”
Note, however, that the extracts tested showed a lower efficiency for dry rot and did not work against the Dickeya bacteria.
If scientists and producers are pleased with these positive results, other studies will need to be conducted for the product to be marketed, especially regarding its safety and potential impact on taste and color.