AMERICAN regulators have approved what would be the first commercialised biotech apple, rejecting efforts by the organic industry and GMO critics to block it.
The US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (Aphis) on Friday approved two genetically engineered apple varieties designed to resist browning, that have been developed by the Canadian company Okanagan Specialty Fruits.
Okanagan plans to market the apples as Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden, and says the apples are identical to their conventional counterparts except the flesh of the fruit will retain a fresh appearance even after it’s sliced or bruised.
Okanagan President Neal Carter called the approval “a monumental occasion.
“We can’t wait until they’re available for consumers.”
Carter said Arctic apples will first be available late next year in small quantities, and it will take many years before the apples are widely distributed.
The new Okanagan apples have drawn broad opposition. The Organic Consumers Association (Oca), which petitioned the department to deny approval, says the genetic changes that prevent browning could be harmful to human health, and pesticide levels on the apples could be excessive.
Oca will be pressuring food companies and retail outlets not to make use of the apples, said Oca director Ronnie Cummins. “It’s an experiment on humans for no good reason.”
The department said it had determined that the apples were “unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agriculture” and they are “not likely to have a significant impact on the human environment”. The law only allows the department’ decision to be based on plant pest risk to agriculture or other plants.
The Food and Drug Administration, which has no mandatory review for genetically engineered foods, is looking at the new apples through voluntary consultation with Okanagan.
Some science, environmental and consumer groups said they worry the genetic changes could have consequences on insects, animals and humans. “We think there are some possible risks that were not adequately considered,” a senior scientist with the non-profit Centre for Food Safety, Doug Gurian-Sherman, said.