Okanagan Specialty Fruits, a small biotechnology company based in British Columbia, has genetically engineered apples whose cores won't brown, yielding fruit that will still look fresh even after it's cut open. Although the stain-resistant apples contain "no nutritional bonus" compared to run-of-the mill Granny Smiths, the company — which is currently seeking USDA approval — is hoping its innovation will convince more consumers to snack on apple slices. Here's a brief guide:
How does it work?
Okanagan licensed the technology from Australian researchers who initially experimented with potatoes. Those researchers were able to "silence" the enzyme that causes browning in spuds, and, by extension, apples.
Will the USDA go for a genetically modified apple?
The apple commissioner of Washington state, where half of the U.S. supply is grown, says that genetically modified "is a bad word in our industry," but proponents like Alex Berezow, editor of RealClearScience.com, say "there is overwhelming evidence that genetically modified foods are safe." In any case, says Kay Moeller at Gather, the USDA "has previously approved modified tomatoes and grapes," so "it's very likely they'll give the nod to Okanagan's Arctic apple." However, the review process "can take years."
Could this boost apples' popularity?
The fruit is already hot. Sales of cut-and-packaged apples are booming, even on airplanes and McDonald's menus. Still, the jury's out on whether American consumers would actually swallow this variety; at the moment, says Curtis Cartier at The Seattle Weekly, the trend is "more toward the natural and organic than the genetically modified and just-plain-weird."
Sources: Toronto Globe and Mail, Gather, Bloomberg Businessweek, Associated Press, Seattle Weekly