Friday, April 11, 2014

Fear of Frankenfruit

The largest apple trade group in America is bracing for problems related to genetically modified fruit.

Writing in opposition to the application of Okanagan Specialty Fruits to sell GM apples, the US Apple Association said:

The genetically modified apples in the petition offer questionable commercial benefit yet raise serious marketing questions for virtually all segments of our industry.

...we believe that granting the request for deregulation could lead to significant and unnecessary costs to the industry in the form of labeling and marketing efforts that would be required to differentiate conventional apples from the GE apples.

Okanagan is creating new varieties by modifying the genes of several classic apples so that slices of the fruit resist browning and hide bruises. Government approval (or disapproval) of these so-called "Arctic" apples is pending in the U.S. and Canada.

If approval is granted, Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny could be in supermarkets in just a few years, with more to come.

No other apples, and none available today, are genetically modified. Apple varieties are products of old-fashioned breeding and the propagation of sports.

Nonetheless the marketers of one variety, Opal, have already gone through the effort and expense of having that apple certified as GMO-free by the nonprofit non-GMO Project.

Opal, a very fine new variety, has special reason for concern. Opal is one of several apples that resist browning naturally.

Opal: officially GMO-free
Meanwhile, Okenagan's web site for the apples touts the benefits of genetically engineered nonbrowning fruit.

Could the public come to equate all non-browning with GMO? If so, the Opal patent holders are only protecting their investment.

Except for Arctic, there are no GMO apples. Popular older varieties are not under patent. Nobody "owns" them in quite the same way so there is no one to get them certified as GMO free, even though they are.

Meanwhile Okanagan continues to resist mandatory labeling of GMO content.

Will apples come to be seen as a suspect food by GMO skeptics and the public? Paradoxically, the more varieties that follow Opal's lead, the worse it may look for the fruit as a whole.

A few more notes and thoughts.
  • According to Okanagan, the genes it spliced into the Arctic varieties to suppress oxidation are from (other) apples.
  • The greatest market for this fruit may be in processed foods that may already include GMO ingredients (although of a different sort).
  • Not everyone agrees that GMOs are harmful. However, a meaningful segment of the public is concerned about them.
  • The two apple varieties with the greatest potential for GMO confusion from Arctic are of course the non-GMO Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. They have no patents or marketers. Who will clear their names?
Update: The Arctic apples won U.S. FDA approval in February of 2015. They have not yet been approved in Canada.
    "Frankenfruit" is available courtesy of C Lord under a Creative Commons license.


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