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GMO Arctic Apples to Hit Shelves Next Month Without Clear Labeling

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The first genetically modified (GMO) apples, which are engineered to resist browning when sliced, will arrive in select midwestern U.S. stores next month. The fruit, produced by Okanagan Specialty Fruits and sold under the brand name Arctic Apples, will be packaged as "grab-and-go" slices, according to Capital Press.

A customer will only know that the fruit is genetically modified by scanning the packaging with a smartphone. The company is adhering to the new GMO food labeling act which allows businesses to use a QR code instead of clear wording that informs consumers if a product contains GMO ingredients.

"We are selling it under the Arctic brand and we've had a lot of press and attention, so I assume most people will know what it is," Okanagan's founder and president Neal Carter told Capital Press.

The company's product can be identified with its logo of a snowflake inside an apple outline.

The apples first stirred up controversy in February 2015 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved an aesthetically-improved genetically engineered food for the first time.

In order to prevent apples from browning, the company "silenced" an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (PPO) that drives oxidation in apples. The benefit of these apples, as the company said, is that it cuts down food waste—about 40 percent of apples are currently wasted, with much of that waste from superficial bruising and browning.

Like the industry norm, Arctic Apples do not fully oxidize for three weeks after being cut into but without the flavor-altering, chemical additives used by the traditional sliced apple business.

The cost savings "can be huge," Carter told NPR. "Right now, to make fresh-cut apple slices and put them in the bag, 35 or 40 percent of the cost is the antioxident treatment. So you could make a fresh-cut apple slice 30 percent cheaper."

Okanagan touts that its Arctic Goldens, the variety that will hit shelves next month, "offer the same nutritional value as the conventional Golden Delicious apple you know and love, but do so even better, especially as ready to eat, preservative free slices!"

The company will also be selling GMO Granny Smith and Fuji in the future after gaining USDA approval. The USDA deregulated the GMO Fuji apple in September despite receiving more than 620 comments from individuals and consumer groups who were opposed to the variety, GMO food in general, as well as concerns over a lack of clear GMO labeling.

"It's not only an unnecessary product, but the risks have not been fully examined," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

Hauter added that there could be unintentional consequences of the fruit.

"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," she said.

Carter told Capital Press that Midwestern retailers were chosen for the first sales this winter because they seemed like a good fit demographically.

When the publication asked if Midwest consumers may be more accepting of GMO apples compared to the East or West coasts, Carter said consumer research did not indicate that and that it was not a consideration.

"We don't want to skew our test marketing results by choosing stores that may be more friendly to genetic engineering," he said.

Five hundred, 40-pound boxes of Arctic Goldens will be sold at 10 unnamed stores in the Midwest in February and March. Okanagan is aiming to produce more than 6,000 more boxes of the fruit for the region after the fall 2017 crop.

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