One Farmer And His Engineered Non-Browning Apples

A profile in Seattle Weekly offers a rundown of what would be one of the first commercially sold GMO whole fruits… if it makes it to market.

Conventional Granny Smith Apple vs. Arctic Granny Smith Apple

Arctic Apples

For a small-time farmer, Neal Carter has received a lot of big-time attention. Carter is the owner of a 21-acre farm in Canada’s Okanagan Valley and the developer of Arctic apples, which are genetically engineered so their interiors stay white for hours after being cut.

Carter thinks his invention could encourage people to eat more apples by making packaged, pre-sliced fruit more appealing. Anti-GMO activists, as well as the apple industry, oppose the introduction of Arctics, each for different reasons. Seattle Weekly has published a profile of Carter with detailed reporting on the technology's contentious route to market. It's a great read if you want to get caught up on the issue. Some highlights:

  • The technology that goes into Arctic apples is different from that used to make many GMO products. Often, scientists make modified crops by inserting genes from other species into the crop plants' own DNA. Arctic apples use a newer technique that takes advantage of a process called RNA interference or RNAi. The apples get extra doses of native apple genes. That stimulates an immune reaction in the fruits so that they produce much lower amounts of the protein responsible for browning.
  • The reason opposition to Arctic apples has been especially vehement is because, unlike the commonly-modified corn and soybeans, apples are "a representation of America." Also, they are a "whole food" that you, you know, bite directly into:

Lisa Archer, director of Friends of the Earth’s food and technology program, says that recent transgenic products like the Arctic apple have ignited a ‘whole new level of concern,’ since most are intended to be eaten as a whole food. Older GMOs such as corn and soy are typically processed for their derivatives and mixed with a lot of other ingredients to create packaged and canned foods.

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture approval for Arctic apples is marching forward:

In early November, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service released its assessments of the Arctic after three years of deliberations. . . . Considering the question of unintended targets [of the Arctic apple’s RNAi immune stimulation], the agency concluded that such an effect was unlikely. . . . The assessments countered other concerns, highlighted the apple’s good points, and indicated that it was on the verge of deregulation.