Saturday, February 14, 2015

Government approves first GMO apples

Over objections from the apple industry, the U.S. government yesterday gave the green light to the first genetically engineered apples.

The gene-altered Arctic-brand apples are Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties that have been modified to resist browning when cut or bruised. Limited quantities could be brought to market as early as 2016.

The developer, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, is resisting calls to clearly label the apples as genetically altered, telling the New York Times "that labeling the fruit as genetically modified would only be 'demonizing' it."

Meanwhile the marketers of a naturally non-browning apple have already obtained certification of non-GMO status to distance the Opal apple from the Arctic varieties.

Growers are concerned that genetic manipulation of apples will tarnish the fruit's healthy image and will cause confusion, expense, and loss of sales.

However government review was limited by law to potential "plant-pest risk to agriculture or other plants in the United States," according to an FDA fact sheet.

A bit more from the Times and from Produce Retailer, an industry publication.

Resistance to oxidation occurs naturally in many apple varieties besides Opal, including Cortland, Envy, and Lady Alice.

Okay, here is the editorial.

I could probably write a lot more about the foregoing. For now I'll just admit that as an apple aficionado I do not like this development, but for esthetic rather than scientific reasons.

I wouldn't choose an Arctic Granny, an apple designed to mask damage and decay, over a real Granny Smith, but I would not fear to do so. These are just apples, okay? I'd eat one fresh off the tree.

In any case, the likely market for these is the processed-food industry.

Probably the introduction of GMO apples will roil the marketplace and destroy more value than it creates. Okanagan will profit at the expense of farmers.

This strikes me as both unfair and economically inefficient, but it is how the system sometimes works. Farmers face far-worse challenges.

I'm less philosophical about Okanagan's ongoing lobbying campaign to keep the GMO label off its product, lest informed consumers decide not to choose it.

That's offensive, among other things.

It's paternalistic and hypocritical and deserves to fail. If these apples depend on deception to win acceptance then I heartily hope they, and their backers, fail as well.


  1. Thanks for letting us know about this news. Freedom is my mantra. In this case I would certainly side with consumer rights. Labeling should be mandatory as we have a right to know. Many people do not want to eat GMO foods. They have a right to watch what they eat just as someone with a peanut allergy or someone watching their fat grams. If a business wants to produce them, fine. Let the free market decide if they will be successful. I won't be buying any.

    1. Matt, it certainly seems as though Okanagan wants to have its freedom to sell at the expense of consumers' freedom to know.

  2. I started writing something about this too, but never finished. Labeling isn't enough. You can't label a gene. You can't label the seedling tree from the genetically engineered apple or the tree it pollinates. You can't expect a kid visiting a friends house or going to a cafeteria to read the label if it is labeled, or know not to eat apples off a tree that appears to be just an apple tree. Labeling is a compromise and a red herring in a way. Better than nothing, but pretty ineffective.

    This is for industry to be able to pawn off ever older and less nutritious food on an unsuspecting public anyway. If the apple browns, we can tell it's old at least. Fast food chains and cafeterias will benefit by being able to less fresh food. If we have to go in that direction, we could at least keep in natural. There are breeders working on traditional breeding lines for that trait and it's a trait that has always existed in some apples, even if they aren't always good ones.

    1. Turkey, haven't we heard this tune before, in the sad story of Red Delicious?

      A perfectly fine variety, by all accounts, tweaked and sported to mediocrity in the name of commerce. Until the day or reckoning.

  3. Seeing as they will be marketed as slices in prepared packages, they will sit side by side with other non-GMO apples similarly presented.

    At a big box store for example--if they are lucky enough for that kind of contract, with or without labeling, price point wins. If they come in under price, or, they sell for same amount--but advertise "no chemicals to prevent browning," they might win. But if they sell for 5-10%+ more, I would expect middling sales.

    We know they aint gonna win on superior taste. Granny is Granny. Golden is Golden.


    1. Brad, maybe visions of baggies of pre-sliced apples may be dancing in Okanagan's heads. But I wonder how likely that is.

      I see them, maybe, delivered in big plastic bags peeled and cut to restaurants. For salad bars and apple tarts and garnishes.

      Potatoes are sold that way today.

      Or large commercial bakeries. Or maybe not at all; this is a generally dubious idea commercially.

      Yet that seems more likely to me than supermarket sales.

      PS: If they do as you suggest, watch the marketing boffins come up with something that does not use the words "chemicals" or "browning."

  4. GMO's are not known to be the best tasting produce on the market— GMO apples would be a true disgrace. Apples are meant to brown and to bruise, it's just natural. I much rather stay away from altered apples if I can

  5. Might I add, this website is neat! I thought I was the only ome with an intense predilection towards apples. You seem to be on the educated side, being an apple aficionado or what not, which is really cool to me. I'm just a teenager with a decidedly uncouth and irrational affection— even borderline obsession— with apples. This website really fuels my internal passion for all things apples.

    1. Ashley, apples are really interesting, among other things! Follow your tastes and you will be rewarded.


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