New USDA approved apples turn down the brown

AppleCore_GrannySmith_resizedNew types of apples that have been genetically engineered (GE) to not brown as quickly after being cut were recently approved for sales in the U.S. by The U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to a recent article.

Known as the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden, these are the first types of apples that have been genetically engineered with extra copies of apple genes to produce less of the substance that causes browning. When the apples are sliced or bruised, the fruit’s flesh retains its original color longer instead of turning brown.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said in the article that it made the decision to deregulate the apples and allow them to be commercially planted after assessments showed that “the GE apples are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agriculture and other plants in the United States,” and that “deregulation is not likely to have a significant impact on the human environment.”

Some consumer groups opposed to genetically modified foods have indicated their disapproval of USDA’s decision.

“Pre-sliced apples are a frequently recalled food product,” noted the Center for Food Safety in the article. “Once the whole fruit is sliced, it has an increased risk of exposure to pathogens. Since browning is a sign that apples are no longer fresh, ‘masking’ this natural signal could lead people to consume contaminated apples.”

If there is enough consumer demand for these apples, it would be several years before producers could grow the fruit. If the apples turn up in grocery stores, they’ll be recognizable by their name, but there are concerns that if the fruit is cut up and used in other foods, consumers won’t necessarily know that the apples were genetically engineered.

These apples however, are not the first genetically engineered food to be approved by the USDA. Last November, genetically modified versions of the popular Russet potato and the Atlantic potato, called Innate potatoes, were approved for farmers to grow and sell commercially.

When fried, the new potatoes produce less of a chemical called acrylamide that appears in some starchy foods when they are cooked at high temperatures. Most abundant in French fries and potato chips, one article states that scientists believe acrylamide raises people’s risk for certain cancers, but it’s not clear how much of the chemical people have to eat for this to happen.

These apples and potatoes are part of a new generation of genetically modified crops that are made by a newer genetic technique called RNA interference. Genetically modified crops in the U.S. were previously created with qualities that benefit farmers and shippers only, such as being Roundup Ready, and not necessarily qualities that consumers would find beneficial.

Now, both Arctic apples and Innate potatoes get their improved qualities from genes taken from other varieties of their own kind. That contrasts with today’s most popular genetically engineered crops, which get their new qualities from genes taken from different species, such as bacteria.

Companies are hoping GMO-wary shoppers will find their same-species-only products more appealing, but as of now, that remains to be seen.

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