Despite conventional apple growers' concerns that the approval of GMO apples could taint the apple's good reputation, last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the deregulation of non-browning apples. In other words, genetically engineered apples are coming to a grocery store near you.
Theses 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 New York Times reports that Neal Carter, president of Okanagan, says the apples will have links to the Okanagan’s website 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’m frustrated by, but the link to the website is the most annoying. Should finding out if foods are made with genetically engineered ingredients be a puzzle that consumers need to solve?
Last week, 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.
You won’t be seeing these apples on your store shelves next fall or even the fall after that. The trees need to be planted and become mature enough to bare edible fruit. Perhaps in the meantime, labeling laws will change and the apples, along with other foods, will be clearly labeled as genetically modified. If not, as of now, these apples will be marketed as Arctic® Granny and Arctic® Golden apples, according to the USDA, so keep your eye out for those labels.
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