By: Laura Sesana
Genetically modified (GM) crops have been part of the U.S. food supply for several years. However, only one type of GM fruit, the Hawaiian papaya (Rainbow and SunUp), has been available to U.S. consumers. This may change by the end of 2013.
If approved, two varieties of apple, Arctic® Granny Smith and Arctic® Golden Delicious, will be the second GMO fruit allowed into the U.S. food supply.
Created by Okanagan Specialty Fruits in British Columbia, Canada, Arctic® apples do not bruise or brown when sliced.
Browning in apples and potatoes results from polyphenol oxidase (PPO), an enzyme that produces melanin, a compound that contains iron and gives cells a brown tint. To create Arctic apples, Okanagan scientists silenced the apples’ PPO genes by inserting a man-made gene that contains portions of four natural PPO genes. As a consequence, Arctic apples produce less than ten percent of the PPO produced by conventional apples and therefore do not brown when sliced.
Unlike most genetically modified crops in the U.S., genetically engineered to resist pests, droughts or chemicals, Arctic apples are modified purely for cosmetic reasons, nicknamed “Botox apples” by Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety.
Okanagan disagrees that Arctic apples’ benefits are purely cosmetic. “Not only do they have significant potential to reduce food waste, the resistance to browning results in better taste, texture and likely a retention of healthful components like vitamin C and antioxidants, which are typically burned up in the browning reaction,” says Joel Brooks, Marketing Specialist at Okanagan.
The road to your plate
Two US agencies currently stand in the way of Arctic apples’ journey to your grocery store produce section: the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Okanagan is currently seeking “deregulated status” from USDA and APHIS for both varieties of Arctic apples, submitting a petition in May 2010. Specifically, Okanagan will have to prove that Arctic apple crops are not significantly weaker against plant pests and therefore would not endanger other crops that are nearby.
So far, the Arctic Granny Smith has shown increased incidence of a leaf-eating bug known as tentiform leafminer, but for the 13 other pests and diseases tested for by Okanagan, both varieties of Arctic apples have performed better or the same as conventional apples.
The first of two public comment sessions closed in September 2012 and received nearly 2,000 comments.
“We expect a second U.S. public comment period, which will be 30 days long, to open within the next few months and anticipate full U.S. deregulation later in 2013,” Neal Carter, president of Okanagan said in an interview last month.
Okanagan is also voluntarily consulting with FDA to provide proof that Arctic apples are allergen and toxin free, and safe for human consumption. See here for a detailed description of Okanagan’s consultation with FDA.
Several other GM fruit companies are closely watching Okanagan’s progress through the U.S. regulatory system and are poised to follow in Arctic’s footsteps and into our grocery stores, restaurants, and cafeterias. Okanagan itself is already developing GM peaches, pears, and cherries.
Under current FDA regulations, GM foods are only required to be identified as such when they are substantially different from the natural version. Since Arctic apples are not considered by FDA to be substantially different from conventional apples, they will not require a label once they reach the U.S. market.
While Okanagan will voluntarily label their fruit, according to Carter, Okanagan supports transparency but opposes mandatory labeling. “We as a company don’t support mandatory labeling because we feel it basically undermines the regulatory process,” he said in a recent interview. We’ve gone through a three-year, very rigorous process and the result of that is that it’s deemed to be as safe as any other apple. Finally they expect you to put a label on it like a scare tactic against GMOs.”
While some opponents have resigned themselves to the fact that GM foods are and will continue to enter the U.S. food supply, many advocate labeling of GM foods in order to allow consumers to make an educated choice on whether or not to purchase and consume GM foods.
Source: Washington Times