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Gene-altered apples get US approval

The US government has approved the commercial planting of genetically engineered apples that are resistant to turning brown when sliced or bruised.

The developer, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, says it believes the non-browning feature will be popular with both consumers and food service companies because it will make sliced apples more appealing. The feature could also reduce the number of apples discarded because of bruising.

But many executives in the apple industry say they worry that the biotech apples, while safe to eat, will face opposition from some consumers, possibly tainting the wholesome image of the fruit. They are also concerned that it could hurt exports of apples to countries that are anti GM foods.

The USDA, which approved the apples, said that it had considered these issues. However, it said that under the law, approval is based on whether a GM crop poses a threat to other plants. The department determined that the apples posed no such risk.

The so-called Arctic apples — which will be available in the Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties — are genetically engineered in a way to suppress the production of an enzyme that causes browning when cells in the apple are injured, from slicing, for example, and not by putting genes from another species into the apple’s DNA as is the case with most GM crops.

But over time the apples will still rot and turn brown. In November, the USDA approved a GM potato developed by the JR Simplot Company that uses a similar technique to prevent browning.

The apple will join relatively few other examples of GM fresh produce, including papaya and some sweet corn. Most of the GM food Americans eat is processed, containing ingredients made from engineered corn or soybeans.

The engineered trait is also one of the few meant to appeal to consumers; most of the traits so far, like insect resistance and herbicide resistance, have been aimed at helping farmers.

The approval is also unusual in that Okanagan, which is based in Summerland, British Columbia, is a small company. Most GM crops are developed by giant seed and chemical companies like Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer.

Neal Carter, the president of Okanagan, said the apple had “a lot of silent supporters” and would be popular with the food service business.

“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. The roughly 45 investors in the privately-held company include many people in the apple business, he said.

It will take a few years for Arctic apples to be widely available because trees have to first be planted and then become mature enough to bear fruit…..

The New York Times: Read the full story

Caption: After eight hours, Arctic Granny apples, right, do not brown like unmodified Granny apples.


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