Feb 13, 2015
APHIS deregulates Arctic Apples

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has deregulated two apple varieties that are genetically engineered (GE) to resist browning.

Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny – part of the “Arctic” line of apple cultivars developed through the use of biotechnology by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, a Canadian company – are the first non-browning apple varieties in the United States. Other Arctic varieties are expected to follow, according to OSF.

“The commercial approval of Arctic apples, our company’s flagship product, is the biggest milestone yet for us, and we can’t wait until they’re available for consumers,” said Neal Carter, president and founder of OSF.

It will take several years to produce significant quantities of fruit, however.

“Our focus is working with growers to get trees in the ground,” Carter said. “As more trees are planted and they come into commercial production, there will be a slow but steady market introduction.”

Arctic apples could be available by late 2016 in small, test-market quantities, Carter said.

Since 2011, OSF has been seeking approval from the U.S. and Canadian governments to grow Arctic varieties without restriction. During the development process, OSF scientists determined which genes control browning and figured out how to turn them off – a process that works with any apple variety, according to OSF.

The genetically modified apples have been in field trials in the United States and Canada for a number of years. OSF initially focused on two varieties, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith, but Fuji and Gala are also in the field, and the company plans to seek approval for other varieties as well, Carter said.

The U.S. Apple Association (USApple) was opposed to the deregulation of Arctic apples, due to concerns about public perception of GE fruit.

“We strongly support consumer choice and are encouraged that the producers of Arctic apples have committed to clearly identifying their apples in all marketing and packaging,” said Jim Bair, president of USApple. “It will likely be two to three years minimum before these apples are available. In that time, shoppers will be able to get informed and make their own choices as to whether they want to purchase Arctic apples when they ultimately become available.”

USApple has been preparing for the deregulation of Arctic apples for months, and anticipating steps it can take to assist industry stakeholders in responding to customer and consumer concerns, according to a statement.

Carter said consumers could feel confident about the “rigorous review” of Arctic apples, which have been grown in field trials for more than a decade and are “likely the most tested apples on the planet.”

“All we’ve done is reduce the expression of a single enzyme; there are no novel proteins in Arctic fruit and their nutrition and composition is equivalent to their conventional counterparts,” Carter said.

APHIS found that the GE apples are unlikely to pose a risk to agriculture and other plants and that deregulation is not likely to have a significant impact on the human environment. If APHIS finds, through its rigorous scientific review, that a new GE plant is unlikely to pose a plant pest risk, then under the law and its regulations it is required to deregulate the GE plant, according to its announcement.

OSF is currently engaging in a voluntary food safety assessment consultation with FDA regarding Arctic apples, according to APHIS.

Carter said Arctic apples are in the final stages of the regulatory approval process in Canada.

APHIS’ final assessments can be found here. For more information about Arctic apples, click here.

Matt Milkovich

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