The next wave of GMO food could soon be hitting store shelves in America after the U.S. government approved the planting of genetically modified apple trees. The apples, which are modified to resist turning brown, were created not by one of the biotech giants like Monsanto, but by a small company based in British Columbia called Okanagan. The apple was approved after the government determined that it poses no risks to other plants, but concerns remain that the modified apples could hurt U.S. fruit exports to countries that ban GMOs or that the GMO label could taint the reputation of one of America’s favorite fruits.
The genetically modified apple is different than many GMO foods, since most foods are modified to make farming easier, as is the case with pesticide-resistant soybeans. In this case, the apple is modified to appeal to consumers by reducing bruising or the brown oxidation that occurs when an apple is sliced open. The apples will eventually turn brown and rot like any other apple, but they are more resistant to the browning process. Unlike most GMOs, the apples aren’t modified by inserting genes from other species into the apple’s DNA, but by manipulating the apple’s own genes.
Neal Carter, president of Okanagan, said that there are many people interested in the apple. “I can’t believe how many requests we’ve had just this morning to our website from people who want to buy trees,” he said. Supporters believe that GMO apples will appeal more to consumers and help reduce food waste, since bruised apples will no longer need to be tossed out.
While there may be some commercial interest, some believe that the risk outweighs the benefits. “Apple browning is a small cosmetic issue that consumers and the industry have dealt with successfully for generations,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Food and Water Watch. To alleviate environmental group’s concerns about GMO labeling, the modified apples will be marked so that consumers will know what they are purchasing. Amid the consumer concerns, some companies, like McDonalds and Gerber, have stated that they have no plans to use the apples. The so-called Arctic apple will come in a Granny Smith and Golden Delicious variety, with apples hitting store shelves as soon as 2017.
Images via Okanagan