When the inside of an apple is exposed to oxygen, it begins to brown quickly, making it unappealing to many apple eaters, especially children. To combat this problem, sliced apples that are sold in stores, fast food restaurants, schools and other places are treated with an antioxidant chemical.
In 2010, the Canadian biotech firm Okanagan Specialty Fruits asked the USDA to approve a genetically modified apple that won’t brown after it’s been sliced. The USDA is close to making a decision on the fruit. The agency has opened up a public comment period on the issue before making its decision.
If the apples, named “Arctic” apples, are approved, they won’t be labeled GMO when they get to the grocery store, unless GMO labeling laws change between now and then. NPR is reporting that apple producers are worried that “this new product will taint the apple's wholesome, all-natural image.”
Christian Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, says the concern is with marketing.
Schlect sees a risk that consumers who are viscerally opposed to genetic engineering will avoid apples entirely, and the industry will have to spend precious time and money keeping GMO apples separate from their conventional cousins.
The USDA’s preliminary findings are that these GMO apples are no more harmful than a conventional apple. Right now the Arctic apples are being grown as Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties, but Gala and Fuji are also a possibility. These are varieties that are common at most grocery stores, so unless there was labeling to differentiate them, consumers could find it problematic.
There is a way now to tell genetically modified fresh produce from conventional fresh produce. It’s all on the produce sticker. A sticker with a four-digit code is non-GMO; a sticker with a five-digit code that begins with then number 8 means the produce has been genetically modified.
But, those stickers don’t go on packets of sliced apples. It could be impossible for people to tell if the sliced apples in a package are free from browning because they are the GMO variety.
If the GMO apples are approved, it might take some vigilance on the part of those who don’t want to consume GMOs to assure avoidance. I’m not so sure if it would make people forgo apples altogether, though.