The USDA approval allows trees bearing the new fruit to be sold to farmers, but safety approval by the Food and Drug Administration for consumption can’t be far behind.
According to Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a consumer-rights group based in Washington, D.C. “It will probably still be a few years before they’re sold in stores.”
“The USDA is usually the big step, and that happened today,” Lovera told the press, explaining that GMOs — or genetically modified organisms — are already on the market but “this is kind of the next generation, where they’re trying to promote a consumer benefit. When you cut it, it won’t turn brown.”
The scientists behind the so-called Arctic apples “turned off” the gene found in apples that caused them to turn brown — a process that differs from other GMO crops and foods, which usually add genes from other organisms.
“This time, they’re going into the existing material and turning off genes, but what else did that gene do that they turned off?” Lovera asked, pointing to the concerns that some people have about the potential harm of manipulating genes.
For example, if that gene helped protect the apple from pest attack, and it’s no longer “on,” farmers could need more pesticides, she said. Her other concern, she said, is that now consumers won’t know how long apples have been ‘on the shelf’.
Dietitian Amy Jamieson-Petonic, of University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, said research suggests genetically modified foods don’t pose an immediate threat to people’s health. But there’s always room for more research, she said.
Apples that have turned brown, or oxidized, aren’t nutritionally different from apples that have not yet turned brown, she said. But she suggested eating apples before they change colour.
Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which makes the Arctic apples, said in a statement that it was excited by the USDA approval and it is “working hard to get as many trees in the ground as possible.”
The company further said that Arctic apples present no unique risks and are just as safe and healthful as any other apple.