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Third GMO Arctic Apple Gets USDA Approval

A third genetically-modified (GMO) apple was commercially approved last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The Arctic Fuji apple from Okanagan Speciality Fruits, which is engineered to keep from browning, joins the company's two other varieties—the Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny.

The company said around 40 percent of apples are wasted because of superficial bruising and browning and created its apples to help keep the popular fruit from being prematurely thrown in the trash while claiming to keep its original texture and flavor. In order to prevent apples from browning, the company said it has "silenced" the enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (PPO) that drives oxidation in apples.

Michael Firko, deputy administrator for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the new status for the Arctic Fuji is the "most scientifically sound and appropriate regulatory decision."

Neal Carter, Okanagan Specialty Fruits' founder and president, said the feedback they have gotten from consumers has been very positive. "The response to Arctic Fuji apples and our overall platform to deliver direct benefits to consumers has been encouraging," Carter said. "We are confident the positive feedback we have received will translate to the marketplace."

However, not everyone agrees.

"Many big apple buyers don't want this. Consumers don't want this. It's not only an unnecessary product, but the risks have not been fully examined," Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said.

"Regulators have glossed over the possible unintentional effects of this technology, including the potential economic impacts on farmers, the potential of contamination for non-GMO and organic apple crops and the potential impact of the non-browning gene silencing, which could also weaken plant defenses and plant health."

The USDA appeared to have made the decision in favor of the company despite feedback they received during a 30-day public comment and review on the government's regulation.gov website. Many of the more than 620 commenters said they were opposed not only to the variety, but to all GMO food. Others commented that they were concerned that the GMO apple would deceive consumers and asked for it to be labeled as such.

Carter told Capital Press the company's Arctic Golden variety will be available for test marketing in stores in the western U.S. in the fall and will be labeled as GMO in the nutritional information area of packaging when regulations require it. He also said the company will seek USDA approval for its Arctic Gala next year, hoping for approval in 2017 or 2018.

"Food companies and restaurants, apple growers and growers associations, and consumers don't want GMO apples. Yet this company is introducing them," Ken Roseboro, publisher of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, said.

"And of course they won't be labeled as GMO in the U.S. for at least two years with the weak GMO labeling bill that was recently passed, and even then they may just have a QR code. There are already non-GMO, non-browning apples available, including the Non-GMO Project verified Opal apple and ones developed at Washington State University, but the media ignores those options in favor of so-called 'high tech' GMO apples."

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