The United States on Friday approved the commercial planting of genetically engineered apples that are resistant to turning brown when sliced or bruised.
The developer of the apple, a small Canadian company called Okanagan Specialty Fruits, says it believes the apples will help improve sales of the fruit by making sliced apples more popular and appealing.
But many executives in the apple industry have expressed concern that approval of a biotech apple would taint the wholesome, natural image of the fruit, and its reputation for keeping the doctor away. They are also concerned that it could hurt exports of apples to countries that do not like genetically modified foods.
The Department of Agriculture, which approved the apples for commercial planting, said Friday that it had considered these issues. However, it said that under the law, its decision on whether to approve the apples was based solely on whether the genetically modified fruit trees were a plant pest, which usually refers to pathogens or insects. Since the trees posed no such risk, they were approved.
The apple is genetically engineered in a way to produce less of the chemicals that cause browning when cells in the apple are injured, so the apples retain their natural color longer after being sliced or bruised. But over time the apples will still rot and turn brown. The Agriculture Department approved potatoes not too long ago that had a similar genetic modification.
The approval was for two varieties of what Okanagan calls its Arctic apple — Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. The Agriculture Department said it would probably be several years before the fruit showed up in stores because Okanagan first had to persuade growers to grow them. Then it would take a few years for the trees to bear fruit.
Okanagan is still engaged in a consultation with the Food and Drug Administration over the safety of the apple. That consultation is voluntary but virtually all genetically modified crops have gone through it.