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Public comments so far show support for third GMO apple

There are 18 days remaining in the public comment period on the Arctic Fuji as Okenagan Specialty Fruits Inc. seeks permission to market its third variety of genetically modified, non-browning apple.

Neal Carter founded Okanagen Speciality Fruits in 1996 in Summerland, British Columbia. The company has developed and gained approval for genetically modified apples that have non-browning properties.

Neal Carter founded Okanagen Speciality Fruits in 1996 in Summerland, British Columbia. The company has developed genetically modified apples that have non-browning properties.

Bioresource engineer Neal Carter, founder and president of the fruit company in Summerland, British Columbia, Canada, already gained permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the trademarked Arctic golden delicious and granny smith varieties in 2015. Preliminary statements from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) indicate the Arctic Fuji is also likely to earn approval.

“We are advising the public that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has reached a preliminary decision to extend our determination of nonregulated status of Okanagan Specialty Fruits’ (OSF) GS784 and GD743 apples to OSF NF872 ‘Arctic® Fuji apple’. OSF’s NF872 apple has been genetically engineered for enzymatic browning resistance using the same mode of action as GS784 and GD743 apples,” federal officials state in their summary.

As of midday Thursday, only 19 comments had been filed electronically with APHIS. One of those commenters opposes approval of the GMO Fuji. The other 18, ranging from scientists to mothers of young children, all express support for the non-browning Arctic Fuji.

“I’m incredibly excited for these new variety of non-browning apples. I’m a mother and routinely am responsible for providing snacks for my child and often times his entire class,” Misty Cabrera wrote in her online comments.

“Being able to provide healthy but child-approved and allergy friendly foods can be difficult. No child likes to eat brown apples. With these new apples I’ll be able to slice enough apples for a large group and not have to worry about them appearing unfresh from browning by the time they are ready to be eaten.”

Arctic Apples logo and tractor

To view this video, click on the image.

Carter describes the process used for his Arctic apples as “gene silencing,” which he says is used to suppress apples’ expression of polyphenol oxidase (PPO), the enzyme involved in browning when the fruit is bruised, bitten or cut. This virtually eliminates PPO production, Carter said in a news release. The gene-silenced fruit does not brown from superficial damage, but will still show discoloration from bacterial or fungal infections and rot just like any apple.

“Over a decade of real-world field trial experience has assured us that Arctic trees have the same growing needs as conventional trees, and that Arctic apples are compositionally and nutritionally comparable to conventional apples,” Carter said in the release.

“It’s not until an Arctic apple is bruised, bitten or cut that the non-browning benefit becomes obvious.”

Okanagan Speciality Fruits, which has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Intrexon Corp. since April 2015, anticipates commercial introduction of Arctic apple varieties in fall 2017.

“Our main goal is to increase apple consumption and reduce waste,” Carter said in the news release. “By removing the ‘yuck’ factor, more apples get eaten and fewer get thrown away. It helps reduce the load on the environment and families’ pocket books.”

Carter has often cited genetically modified papaya in Hawaii as an example of successful laboratory engineering. Ringspot virus threatened to destroy Hawaii’s papaya industry, but the development and approval of the Rainbow papaya in the 1990s is widely credited with saving the industry. The Rainbow papaya was specifically modified to be resistant to Ringspot virus.

The comment period on the Arctic Fuji is open until Sept. 12. Comments can be submitted by anyone via the Internet or mail. For mailed comments, be sure to include the Docket ID number APHIS-2016-0043.

To submit comments:

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