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USApple stands firm on preventing U.S. distribution of 'Arctic' apple

On July 13, the U.S. Apple Association, headquartered in Vienna, VA, issued a press release stating that it does not support the regulatory proposal pending before the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fully deregulate genetically engineered "Arctic" branded apples.

"Full deregulation would allow the free and open planting of trees which produce these apples," Mark A. Gedris, director of membership and communications for USApple, told The Produce News. "No one is asking for this apple, and the concensus on genetically modified produce is still much too vague for the government or for the general public to feel secure."

The Arctic apple was developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. in Summerland, BC. The company states that by replacing a specific gene in the apple, it prevents the flesh from turning brown when it is bruised or cut open. A proprietary apple, the Arctic is now being trial grown in Canada and in a couple of places in the United States.

As the world heads into a new era of genetically engineered foods, Mr. Gedris questions whether people want this apple leading the way.

"We do not want the Arctic growing in the U.S. for a couple of reasons," he noted. "Aside from public concerns about health issues related to GMO foods, U.S. apple growers have strong partnerships with customers in other countries around the world, and many of these countries have banned GMO foods."

USDA'S Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service on July 13 opened its review for U.S. public comment, which allows U.S. citizens to submit their input on Arctic apples for APHIS' review. This first comment period will close Sept. 11, and a second comment period is expected in the fall.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits also issued a press release July 13 in which Neal Carter, the company's founder and president stated, "We are delighted to reach this important milestone in the U.S., and to be one of the first to participate in the expanded APHIS review processes."

Mr. Gedris said that USApple does not support the regulatory proposal pending before the USDA to fully deregulate genetically engineered Arctic apples.

"The apples under review have been engineered to prevent or turn off the expression of the gene that affects the browning of apples," said Mr. Gedris. "But browning is a natural process resulting from exposure to oxygen. Apples that are naturally very low browning are already in the marketplace. In addition, lightly coating sliced or cut apples with vitamin C-fortified apple juice delays browning prior to serving."

He added that most apple juice is fortified with vitamin C, and that sliced fresh apples are already on the marketplace with great success, such as the packaged apple slices that come in McDonald's Happy Meals.

"We expect the government agencies to make a final decision in approximately a year," said Mr. Gedris. "USApple informed USDA's APHIS last year of our opposition to the full deregulation of these [genetically engineered] apples. Our position remains unchanged."