Apple of My Eye: The GM Fruit that Never Browns


Neal Carter, president and founder of the Okanagan Specialty Fruits Company, is a man on a mission: to bring apples back to the core of America’s snack stash.
He sees the problem. An entire apple, Carter explained to the New York Times, is “for many people too big a commitment,” yet individual apple slices turn unappealingly brown when left out to sit.
Carter’s solution: a genetically modified apple that doesn’t brown when sliced, diced, peeled, or bruised. But the rest of the apple industry sees the GM fruit, now dubbed the Arctic Apple, as a new problem in and of itself, and is crusading to keep it out of the market.
“We don’t think it’s in the best interest of the apple industry of the United States to have that product in the marketplace at this time,” said Christian Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, an organization that represents growers accounting for about 60% of America’s apples.
And why the fierce opposition to a product that, according to Carter, could boost American apple sales by boosting the fruit’s attractiveness? Image, but in another sense. Americans have been consuming genetically modified, processed, and preserved foods for over two decades, but never something as wholesome and sweetly traditional as a fresh apple. In the words of Andrew Pollack of The New York Times, “[US apple producers] say that, while they do not believe genetic engineering is dangerous, it could undermine the fruit’s image as a healthy and natural food, the one that keeps the doctor away and is as American as, well, apple pie.
Carter argues back that the Arctic Apple would only improve the fruit’s status and the nation’s health. He cites the current popularity of pre-sliced apples, available in baggies at the supermarket and in fast food joints like McDonalds and Burger King. But those slices, he says, don’t brown because they’re preserved with a Calcium and Vitamin C coat, which sacrifices taste for appearance.
Plus, he adds, apples that don’t brown when bruised can lead to less waste, as supermarkets often throw out any unsightly apples damaged during shipping. John Rice of the Rice Fruit Company in Pennsylvania backs Carter up on that, saying, “We discard an awful lot of fruit for even minor bruising.”
Currently, the Okanagan Specialty Fruits Company is seeking approval for the Arctic Apple in Canada and the United States. Of course, it could take some time. The US Department of Agriculture just opened a 60-day public comment period on the company’s application, whereas a similar comment period recently ended in Canada.
But while apple producers and regulatory commissions duke it out, what’s the poor, forgotten consumer to do? After a year of “What’s in my food?” freak-outs—from pink slime to insect-laden pink drinks—are Americans finally ready to move towards more natural fare? Or will appearance, once again, triumph over substance?
And just as it reportedly riveted Sir Isaac Newton back in the 1600s, the apple is back to provoking more thought today.

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