One Genetically Engineered Apple Spoils the Bunch

As of right now, only a few items in the produce aisle are genetically engineered (GE) – some squash, papayas and sweet corn. But pretty soon, we could be seeing GE apples in grocery stores. Since 2003, one company has been testing its GE apples in field trials in New York and Washington – the biggest apple-producing states in the country. And now these apples, engineered not to brown when bruised or sliced, are up for regulatory review by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

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As of right now, only a few items in the produce aisle are genetically engineered (GE) – some squash, papayas and sweet corn. But pretty soon, we could be seeing GE apples in grocery stores. Since 2003, one company has been testing its GE apples in field trials in New York and Washington – the biggest apple-producing states in the country. And now these apples, engineered not to brown when bruised or sliced, are up for regulatory review by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Bacterial and viral DNA are inserted into these GE fruits called “Arctic” apples. They would be available in Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties. They are destined for the fresh-cut apple slice processing and food service businesses, with some of the low-grade Arctic apples going into juice. According to the company’s petition, they “see Arctic apples replacing regular apples at the retail level.” The company also expects to see a $120 million return on Arctic apple varieties within the first 10 years of commercialization.

But this new GE apple isn’t even supported by trade organizations such as the US Apple Association or the Northwest Horticulture Council. Both of these organizations sent USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack a letter in March 2011 urging him not to allow the GE apple in the United States due to the potential marketing harm that would occur to apple growers and marketers. The British Columbia Fruit Growers Association is also concerned about the effects that these GE apples will have on the traditional apple market and on consumer confidence in apples at the grocery store. Even the top sliced apple company is concerned about the food safety ramifications of these Arctic apples that will appear to be fresher than they really are.

Some of the concerns raised by these apples include:

  • Nearby organic or traditional apple orchards may be contaminated with pollen from GE apples.
  • The quality of the apples may be masked by its non-browning appearance and mislead consumers into thinking they are fresher than they really are.
  • Commingling of GE apples at the processing level could lead to contamination of non-GE fruit slices or juice
  • Without a label, consumers may unwittingly purchase and consume Arctic apples.

Are all of the risks really worth it for an apple that resists a minor aesthetic flaw? Millions of research dollars have been put into this product so that fast food and processing companies can let sliced apples sit around in plastic bags for longer.  

Although the company claims they will label their apples with an Arctic apple sticker and indication of its “non-browning trait benefit,” there is no requirement for them to do so, and since there is no required labeling of GE products, they will not be responsible for telling the public that their product is genetically engineered.

As the saying goes, one bad apple spoils the bunch. And this could be that apple. Which is why we’re asking the USDA not to approve the GE Arctic apple for commercialization in the United States. Here’s our petition if you’d like to join us.  

Blog written by Wenonah Hauter
Wenonah Hauter is the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. She has worked extensively on energy, food, water and...