Starting in February in the Midwest, the first GMO apples will arrive on store shelves.
These particular GMO apples, created by Canadian biotech firm Okanagan Specialty Fruits, are safe to eat but have been modified so they won’t brown when the peeled fruit is exposed to oxygen.
The apples take three weeks to brown after slicing, and they do it without additives — which many consumers will like. However, it raises new concerns about GMO labeling, or rather the lack of it.
They'll be sold pre-sliced and packaged in grab-and-go pouches under the name Arctic® Golden Delicious. Only by scanning the QR code on the bag will consumers find out that the apples are GMO. They will not be marked as GMO otherwise.
About 500 40-pound boxes are being distributed to select stores in the Midwest, according to Capital Press. Retailers have not been identified.
This initial batch of apples will be used to gather data on preferences, including packaging, price and purchasing motivation. Okanagan will use this information to determine what its full launch strategy will be this fall. That batch is expected to include the Arctic® Golden Delicious and Arctic® Granny Smith. In addition to the Arctic name, the pouches will be branded with the Arctic logo of a snowflake inside of an outlined apple.
GMOs and consumer choice
The New York Times reported in 2015 that Neal Carter, president of Okanagan, said the apples will have links to the Okanagan's website on them so consumers "could figure out that the fruit was engineered." Carter is opposed to labeling the apples as GMO because that would be "demonizing" them.
There is much in the NYT piece about the facts surrounding the approval of these apples that I was frustrated by, but the link to the website is still the most annoying. Should finding out if foods are made with genetically engineered ingredients be a puzzle that consumers need to solve with QR code scanner apps?
Back in 2015, legislators introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act to Congress, stating that over 90 percent of the American public want to know if food is genetically engineered. Many those people, according to the NYT, made their opinions known about these specific GMO apples.
A spokesman for the Agriculture Department said it took time to analyze the issues and all the comments received. There were two public comment periods that together drew more than 175,000 comments, the overwhelming majority opposed to approval.
The overwhelming majority of people who contacted the USDA when it asked for the public’s comments said they didn’t want these apples approved. Apple producers who are concerned the apples will make a bad name for apples in general didn’t want these apples. But the USDA’s announcement made it clear that the decision for approval was based on a “final plant pest risk assessment.” The apples are “unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agriculture and other plants in the United States” so they’ve been approved.
The USDA has determined these apples are safe for plants. (That's what the law requires.) The opinions of the humans who consume the apples were not the deciding factor in this decision.
This story was originally written in February 2015 and has been updated with new information.