USDA approves non-browning GMO Arctic apples

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ARCTICAPPLES.COM
  • Arcticapples.com
The Department of Agriculture has approved the first genetically modified apple for planting in the U.S., Bloomberg Business reports. The Arctic apple, developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits in British Columbia, doesn't brown when sliced, diced or bruised. Okanagan's founder, Neal Carter, hopes his innovation will encourage people to eat more apples and reduce food waste. 

The Inlander interviewed Carter two years ago for our cover story on GMOs and Washington's failed ballot initiative to require the labeling of foods made with genetically modified ingredients. Carter emphasized that designing a non-browning apple doesn't mean "putting pesticides into apples or bacteria or anything else." The scientists at Okanagan use a technique called "gene silencing" to suppress the trait in apples that causes enzymatic browning. The process is explained in-depth here.

Here's what Carter said to the Inlander about his project:
The way he sees it, genetic modification isn’t the sole answer to the world’s food problems, but it’s an important tool. Sometimes the right one, sometimes not.

Carter speaks with an even tone even when recounting the hostile comments routinely directed at the company.

“It is a point of frustration that sound bites and attention spans are very short,” he says. “But that’s the reality, right?”

The company faced a new round of disapproving attention last year when the USDA opened the comment period on the Arctic apple application. Even the U.S. Apple Association voiced opposition, writing that the non-browning trait was “insufficient to warrant introduction into and possible disruption of the consumer marketplace.”

Carter says the industry so far has done “just a really bad job” communicating with consumers. The company actively engages with angry commenters on Facebook with a firm, cheerful tone, and invites critics to look at the trove of documentation posted online.

Despite the hostility, Carter is confident that consumers can and want to understand the science. He trusts that people who look into it sincerely will come to believe the assurances he’s repeated many times.

“They’re as safe as any apple,” he says. “They just don’t turn brown.” 
Read the rest of our cover story on the science behind — and controversy surrounding — GMOs here.