Feds greenlight non-browning GMO apples
The approval is unlikely to rock the world of one of Washington’s main agricultural products in the short term, industry officials say.
Seattle Times business reporter
Federal regulators have approved a British Columbia company’s efforts to sell genetically modified apples that don’t turn an unappetizing brown when cut.
The move could stir emotion among local opponents of genetically modified organisms, who are still reeling from the defeat in 2013 of a state initiative to put a mandatory label on GMO foods.
Exporters have some concern that foreign apple buyers who frown on GMOs may be alarmed. But the approval is unlikely to have much effect on one of Washington’s main agricultural products in the short term, industry officials say.
So-called “Arctic apples” were developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which says non-browning apples are less likely to end up in the waste bin.
“Your child will finally finish their apples,” the company, which interrupts the browning process by mixing in genes from other apples, says on its website. Okanagan has had field trials of its fruit in Washington state since 2003, according to its website.
Okanagan, based in Summerland, B.C., said it’s currently looking to partner with growers across the U.S. interested in planting Arctic apples.
On Friday the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service approved two varieties of Arctic apples in the U.S., saying they are “unlikely to pose a plant pest risk” and won’t have “significant impact on the human environment.”
But these apples won’t hit the shelves anytime soon; only in late 2016 will they be available in “small, test-market quantities,” Okanagan said in a news release.
Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, said it may take three to five years for the apples to be available in commercial quantities.
Since browning is not a major issue among home consumers, he said, “the non-browning apple lends itself towards the slicing industry more than anything else.”
The USDA’s environmental assessment said the apples aren’t expected to adversely affect foreign trade.
Washington exports more than a third of its apples, said Fryhover.
But suspicion of U.S. apples in foreign markets that frown on GMOs, such as China, could become an issue for exporters and growers, said Christian Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.
“We’ll be working to make sure that our customers understand that if there should be (genetically engineered) food in the future, it’ll be labeled,” he said.
He added that in the U.S. as well, “there’s quite a bit of concern among a certain element of the public about biotechnology.”
Two years ago an initiative that sought to label GMO products in Washington state was voted down after a heavily financed industry campaign to defeat it.
Schlect said that the apple’s iconic status — as a symbol of America, even — might help reignite that concern.
Cindy Black, an activist who campaigned for GMO-labeling in Washington, predicted “more negative than positive” reaction to the Arctic apple. She also questioned the Arctic apple’s ultimate appeal.
“Really, how much more apple is a kid going to eat because it’s not brown?” Black asked. “One doesn’t need genetically modified apples to keep them from browning. It’s all about lemon juice,” she said.