SUMMERLAND, BC – Apples from genetically engineered apple trees, the Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny apples, have received USDA okay to be non-regulated.
Developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. of Summerland, BC, the nonbrowning and bruise-resistant apples will likely be propagated via bud wood and grafting, entering the consumer marketplace over three to five years.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service says it examined a number of issues in the review of Okanagan Specialty Fruit's application to market the apple, including "potential cross-pollination with other apple varieties (including native crabapples), effect on the physical environment, effects on biological organisms including threatened and endangered species, the potential for weakened plant defenses and increased susceptibility to disease or infection, and potential economic impacts on the U.S. apple industry and market."
After review and public comments, USDA said Arctic apples "are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk" and deregulation "is not likely to have a significant impact on the human environment." [Read USDA FAQs on the Arctic Apple.]
The USDA announcement is significant in to agricultural markets, which have been slowly gaining approval for other genetically engineered food crops, but also because it is a tree - with a much longer growth cycle than row crops like corn or sorghum.
Neal Carter, president and founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., who says he expects other nonbrowning Arctic varieties to follow, called USDA's announcement a "monumental occasion" for his team. “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.”
Consumers will have to wait awhile since apple trees take several years to produce significant quantities of fruit, though test crops were grown in New York.
“Our focus is working with growers to get trees in the ground," Carter says. "As more trees are planted and they come into commercial production, there will be a slow, but steady market introduction.” Carter said the apples, which have been grown in field trials for over a decade, are safe.
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