The US Department of Agriculture has decided to deregulate two new apple varieties genetically engineered to resist browning, The New York Times reports. That means the apples, which will be marketed as Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden, are approved for commercial planting.
Arctic apples will brown over time, just more slowly
The apples were developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., a small company in Canada. Instead of growing the fruit itself, the company will license its varieties to commercial farms. The company's president Neal Carter told NPR that food service companies will no longer need to treat their pre-sliced apples with preservative chemicals. "Right now, to make fresh-cut apple slices and put them in the bag, 35 or 40 percent of the cost is the antioxident treatment," he said. "So you could make a fresh-cut apple slice 30 percent cheaper." Okanagan will sell licenses to commercial farms for a one-time fee of $1,500 per acre of trees.
Over time, Arctic apples will age and brown just like any other fruit, but at a slower rate. The apples have been genetically modified to slow down production of polyphenol oxidase, an enzyme responsible for browning. This was done by inserting extra copies of a gene that produces the polyphenol oxidase enzyme into the apple; the apple reacts by shutting down all such genes.
During its assessment of the fruit, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service found Arctic apples posed little to no "plant pest risk" to animals or other agriculture. It also determined the farming of the apples posed no significant risk to the environment.
It may be years before the apples are available in stores
Still, it may be years before Arctic apples are available in grocery stores. Okanagan needs to convince commercial farms to grow the apples and grocery stores to stock them. The USDA said public comments during its assessment were more opposed to genetically modified food in general than with the apples in particular. Some growers are also concerned with the fruit's reception abroad, especially in countries opposed to GMOs.
Okanagan is engaged in a voluntary consultation with the FDA regarding the safety of Arctic apples for consumption. Although the FDA currently supports voluntary labeling of GMO foods, it's possible the agency could require Okanagan to disclose its fruits' genetically modified traits to consumers.