That Fresh Look,
By ANDREW POLLACK …Published: July 12, 2012 … http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/13/business/growers-fret-over-a-new-apple-that-wont-turn-brown.html?_r=2&hp
A small company is trying to bring to market a genetically engineered apple that does not turn brown when sliced or bruised. But it has much of the rest of the apple industry seeing red.
The company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, says the nonbrowning apple will prove popular with consumers and food service companies and help increase sales of apples, in part by making sliced apples more attractive to serve or sell.
While Americans have been eatinggenetically engineered foods since the 1990s, those have been mainly processed foods. The Arctic Apple, as it is being called, could become one of the first genetically engineered versions of a fruit that people directly bite into.
But the U.S. Apple Association, which represents the American apple industry, opposes introduction of the product, as do some other industry organizations. They say that, while they do not believe that the genetic engineering is dangerous, it could undermine the fruit’s image as a healthy and natural food, the one that keeps the doctor away and is as American as, well, apple pie.
“We don’t think it’s in the best interest of the apple industry of the United States to have that product in the marketplace at this time,” said Christian Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, which represents the tree-fruit industry in and around Washington State, which produces about 60 percent of the nation’s apples.
The Agriculture Department is expected on Friday to opena 60-day public comment period on Okanagan’s application for regulatory approval of the genetically modified apple trees. A public comment period just ended in Canada, where the company is also seeking approval.
Neal Carter, the founder and president of the company, which is based in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, said the nonbrowning apples could improve industry sales, much as baby carrots did for carrot sales.
A whole apple is “for many people too big a commitment,” he said. “If you had a bowl of apples at a meeting, people wouldn’t take an apple out of the bowl. But if you had a plate of apple slices, everyone would take a slice.”
Consumption of fresh apples in the United States has fallen from about 20 pounds a year for each person in the late 1980s to about 16 pounds now, according to the Agriculture Department.
Apple slices are already becoming more popular as a healthful snack, sold in bags in supermarkets and included by McDonald’s in its Happy Meals for children. The slices are often coated with vitamin C and calcium to prevent browning and preserve crispness. But that can affect the taste, Mr. Carter said.
He also said that growers would have fewer apples rejected by supermarkets because of the minor bruising that is common from handling of the fruit.
Arctic Apples, which would first be available in the Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties, contain a synthetic gene that sharply reduces production of polyphenol oxidase, an enzyme responsible for the browning.
The gene does not come from another species. Rather, it contains DNA sequences from four of the apple’s own genes that govern production of polyphenol oxidase. Putting an extra copy of a gene into a plant can activate a self-defense mechanism known as RNA interference that shuts down both the extra copy and the endogenous gene.
Some critics say the lack of browning could conceal problems with an apple that consumers may want to know about.
“Is it a rotten apple that looks fresh?” said Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, a coalition of groups critical of genetically engineered crops. Ms. Sharratt also said the genetic engineering was “designed to turn the apple into an industrialized product” that could be sold in plastic bags instead of as whole fresh fruit.
Mr. Carter said the injury from bruising or slicing was not harmful to consumers. If the apple were truly rotten from a bacterial or fungal infection, it would still change colors.
“The stuff that is really bad and people won’t want to eat will still be bad,” he said.
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