Source: Food Safety News
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided to approve new types of apples that have been genetically engineered not to brown as quickly after being cut.
Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., the company that developed the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden varieties is currently engaging in a voluntary food safety assessment consultation with the Food and Drug Administration regarding the varieties.
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said it made the decision to deregulate the apples and allow them to be commercially planted after assessments showed that “the GE apples are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agriculture and other plants in the United States” and that “deregulation is not likely to have a significant impact on the human environment.”
Over time, Arctic apples will age, turn brown and rot like any other fruit, but they’ve been genetically engineered to produce less of the substance that causes browning. When the apples are sliced or bruised, the fruit’s flesh retains its original color longer instead of turning brown.
Consumer groups opposed to genetically modified foods have indicated their disapproval of USDA’s decision.
“The USDA has neglected to look at the full range of risks from these apples,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “In its environmental assessment, the USDA glossed over the possibility of unintentional effects associated with the technology used to engineer these apples, potential economic impacts on the U.S. and international apple market, effects of potential contamination for non-GMO and organic apple growers and the impact of the non-browning gene silencing which also can weaken plant defenses and plant health.”
“Pre-sliced apples are a frequently recalled food product,” noted the Center for Food Safety. “Once the whole fruit is sliced, it has an increased risk of exposure to pathogens. Since browning is a sign that apples are no longer fresh, ‘masking’ this natural signal could lead people to consume contaminated apples.”
APHIS said that of the many comments it received on its draft analyses of Arctic apples, some addressed safety concerns and how Arctic apple production might impact exports of U.S. apples abroad. The agency pointed out that under its regulations and the Plant Protection Act, it can’t base its final decision on these factors, but only on the analysis of plant pest risk to agriculture or other plants in the U.S.
If there is enough consumer demand for Arctic apples, it would be several years before producers could grow the fruit. If the apples turn up in grocery stores, they’ll be recognizable by their name, but there are concerns that if the fruit is cut up and used in other foods, consumers won’t necessarily know that the apples were genetically engineered.
The Environmental Working Groups said that the approval of Arctic apples “underscores the need for a transparent and consistent national labeling standard.”
USDA’s announcement came the day after Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) reintroduced legislation to label genetically engineered food.