The U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided to approve new types of apples that have been genetically modified to not brown soon after after being cut. The company that has developed the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden varieties – Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. – is currently engaging in a voluntary food safety assessment consultation with the Food and Drug Administration regarding the varieties.
According to USDA, 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.”
According to the company, Arctic apples will age, turn brown and rot like any other fruit, but produce less of the substance that causes browning. So 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. “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.”
These groups are also concerned about the lack of standardized labeling for genetically modified crops and their processed forms. 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.