On Friday, the government approved the first genetically modified apple for commercial planting. The Arctic apples, as they're called, are part of a growing list of GMO fresh produce to be approved (the list also includes papaya and sweet corn). A gene within the apple is altered so it resists browning and bruising. It's a feature the developer, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, thinks will be pleasing to consumers while reducing the number of bruised apples that are discarded.
Thus far, the reaction to the genetically modified apples has been fiercely negative: The USDA says there were two comment periods during the approval process in which 175,000 people commented, mostly in opposition to the apples. Consumers are concerned that apples will no longer be pure. The apple industry is also opposed because of consumer reaction to GMO foods and whether they'll have trouble exporting the apples to countries that are largely opposed to genetic modification.
“In the marketplace we participate in, there doesn’t seem to be room for genetically modified apples now,” said John Rice, co-owner of Rice Fruit Company in Gardners, Pa., which bills itself as the largest apple packer in the East, reports The New York Times.
The USDA claimed the apples pose no risk, but GMO critics fear we don’t know the longterm impact of these apples yet, and there are fears they haven’t been adequately tested. The apples do eventually rot and turn brown, but in the short term, the mechanism that allows an apple to brown has been turned off.
“This GMO apple is simply unnecessary,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement, according to The New York Times. “Apple browning is a small cosmetic issue that consumers and the industry have dealt with successfully for generations.”
The Arctic apples will be available in Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties, though they won't hit stores right away as they've yet to be extensively planted.
“That clear identification of the Arctic brand will help consumers make clear, informed choices if Okanagan apples do become available in stores in a few years,” Wendy Brannen, director of consumer health and public relations for the U.S. Apple Association, said in an email.
Though the apples won’t be labeled in most parts of the country as genetically modified, thus far Arctic apples are the only brand of genetically modified apples. (Not to mention buying organic apples also ensures they won’t be GMO.) But these apples may further upset consumers that are increasingly critical of GMO foods - even though the majority of corn, soy, and sugar beets, which are used mostly in processed foods, are already modified.
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