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USDA Gives Go-Ahead to Bioengineered Arctic Apples

USDA Gives Go-Ahead to Bioengineered Arctic Apples

Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. (OSF), the developer of the apples through the use of biotechnology, estimates the genetically engineered fruit will be available late next year in small quantities.<br /> <br />

Tired of browning apples? A Canadian company has developed a cure that has been approved by an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Earlier this month, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced its decision to deregulate two apple varieties that have been engineered to resist browning: Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny apples. In a Feb. 13 press release, APHIS said it found the “apples are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agriculture and other plants in the United States." The agency also determined its deregulation decision would not significantly impact the human environment.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. (OSF), the developer of the apples through the use of biotechnology, estimates the genetically engineered fruit will be available late next year in small quantities. It will be a number of years before the non-browning apples are widely distributed, said Neal Carter, president and founder of OSF, in a statement.

“It might make sense to use such a product for pre-sliced apple slices or in fruit salad or salad bars," said Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology director for the Center for Science in the Public, in a statement.

The grower is voluntarily consulting with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding the safety of the apples, according to APHIS. The products are probably the most widely tested apples on the planet, said Carter, who added the company did not significantly tinker with apples.

OSF simply reduced “the expression of a single enzyme," he said. “There are no novel proteins in Arctic fruit and their nutrition and composition is equivalent to their conventional counterparts."

Some consumer groups, however, questioned whether APHIS’ review was sufficiently rigorous. OSF’s apples are genetically engineered through an experimental technique known as RNA interference, according to a press release issued by Friends of the Earth, an environmental advocacy group. Scientists are concerned the technology may adversely affect human health and the environment, according to the organization.

"We are concerned that USDA's safety evaluation of this apple was inadequate, particularly with regard to the health and environmental implications of this particular RNAi technology," said Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, in a statement.

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