Good news for people who like to take a bite out of an apple, and then just leaving it sitting on the kitchen counter for the rest of the day: A small Canadian company called Okanagan Specialty Fruits is developing a genetically engineered apple that won't turn brown after it has been sliced or bruised. But while some people eagerly await the introduction of a perpetually fresh-looking apple, this proposed GMO has its critics.
Called the Arctic Apple, it was made possible through a process called RNA interference — a bit of hi-tech engineering in which scientists can shut down an organism's ability to express a specific gene. In the case of the Arctic Apple, the gene in question is the one that produces polyphenol oxidase, the enzyme responsible for the browning.
The apples, which will initially be available in the Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties, are intended to increase sales by virtue of their cosmetic advantage.
Well, that is, if they ever hit the market. Since Okanagan Specialty Fruits announced their new Arctic Apple, they have been barraged with criticism from a number of camps, including environmental groups, other apple growers, and people concerned that the non-browning apple will simply be used by corporations in packaging. Other critics complain that it will impair a person's ability to figure out at a glance when an apple is rotten.
Writing in the New York Times, Andrew Pollack explains the long road ahead for the Arctic Apple:
But the U.S. Apple Association, which represents the American apple industry, opposes introduction of the product, as do some other industry organizations. They say that, while they do not believe that the genetic engineering is dangerous, it could undermine the fruit's image as a healthy and natural food, the one that keeps the doctor away and is as American as, well, apple pie.
"We don't think it's in the best interest of the apple industry of the United States to have that product in the marketplace at this time," said Christian Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, which represents the tree-fruit industry in and around Washington State, which produces about 60 percent of the nation's apples.
The Agriculture Department is expected on Friday to open a 60-day public comment period on Okanagan's application for regulatory approval of the genetically modified apple trees. A public comment period just ended in Canada, where the company is also seeking approval.
In its defense, OSF's founder and president Neal Carter is arguing that the non-browning apples could boost dwindling sales which has fallen from about 20 pounds a year for each person in the late 1980s to about 16 pounds now. Moreover, he argues that, "for many people [a whole apple is] too big a commitment. If you had a bowl of apples at a meeting, people wouldn't take an apple out of the bowl. But if you had a plate of apple slices, everyone would take a slice."
The company has posted an entire page citing the advantages of their non-browning apple.
Be sure to read Andrew Pollack's entire article as there's lots more to this story.
All images via Okanagan Speciality Fruits.