Georgofili World

Newsletter of the Georgofili Academy

Will genetically engineered apples still keep the doctor away?

An article recently published on The New York Times has brought the attention of the public opinion to newly generated transgenic apples that are resistant to turning brown when sliced or bruised. These apples are genetically engineered in a way to suppress the production of an enzyme that causes browning when cells in the apple are injured, from slicing, for example. They will decay naturally just like any other apple, but will not turn brown from bruising, cutting or biting – not in minutes, hours or days.
Any apple variety can be engineered to be a nonbrowning apple. Okanagan, the biotech that developed the fruit, decided to first convert two of the most popular apple varieties of all time, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. 
These apples have been recently approved by the US Department of Agriculture for commercial planting. The engineered trait is also one of the few meant to appeal to consumers; most of the traits so far, like insect resistance and herbicide resistance, have been aimed at helping farmers. 
How will the costumer welcome these fruits? A spokesman for the Agriculture Department said that, before approval, there were two public comment periods that together drew more than 175,000 comments, the overwhelming majority opposed to approval. Though most of the food Americans eat is processed and contains ingredients made from engineered corn or soybeans, consumer and environmental groups say that genetically modified crops in general are not thoroughly tested for safety.
The environmental groups have been pressing food companies to reject the Arctic apples. McDonald’s and Gerber have sent letters saying they had no plans to use the apples. The groups also renewed their call for genetically modified foods to be labeled as such.
Mr. Carter, the president of Okanagan, said apples would be labeled as Arctic, with links to the company’s website, so consumers could figure out that the fruit was engineered. He said it would discuss with the Food and Drug Administration whether the apples would also be labeled as nonbrowning. But he said that labeling the fruit as genetically modified would only be “demonizing” it.
While many in the apple industry had opposed the approval, some now say they will work to ensure that consumers know most apples are not modified and even the ones that are modified are safe.

Piero Cravedi, Università Cattolica di Piacenza -