(UPDATED COVERAGE, Nov. 14) The U.S. Department of Agriculture is asking for public comment on a risk assessment of a genetically modified non-browning apple.
In August, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service ruled that the Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny apples, varieties grown by Summerland, British Columbia-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., were unlikely to pose a plant health or environmental risk.
Arctics, which are genetically modified to prevent browning, have been grown in field tests in Washington since 2003 and in New York since 2005.
In a notice published in the Nov. 8 Federal Register, APHIS announced it was seeking public comment for its plant pest risk and draft environmental assessments of the Arctics.
Public comments will be received through Dec. 9. This is the second round of public comments on the Arctics. In 2012, in the first round of public comments, 1,935 comment were filed, overwhelmingly in opposition.
The Arctic has generated opposition in the U.S. because of its genetically modified status. On Oct. 31, baby food maker Gerber said it had no plans to use Arctics. On Nov. 1, fast food giant McDonald’s said it had no plans to serve them.
Wendy Brannen, director of consumer health and public relations for the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association, said that while the USDA has found no evidence that Arctics are unsafe, consumers who don’t want to buy them have many other apple varieties to choose from.
“Inevitably, the marketplace will determine whether there is viable demand,” Brannen said.
Neal Carter, Okanagan Specialty Fruits’ president, said the company expects Arctics to be deregulated by the USDA in early 2014, paving the way for U.S. production. Canada also is expected to green-light the variety about the same time.
“Growers in both Canada and the U.S. have shown strong interest in planting Arctic apples,” Carter said.
If Arctics are deregulated as scheduled, there are only enough trees for three or four growers to plant them in 2014, Carter said. And even as more trees become available, fruit won’t ship in volume for years.
“It will be a slow ramp-up,” Carter said. “It will be a long stretch before they’re available in many grocery stores.”
Carter encouraged people with concerns about the Arctic to visit the company’s website, okspecialtyfruits.com.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pseudo-science and paranoia around the anti-GMO movement,” he said. “These are the safest apples on the planet. They’ve been looked at exhaustively from a range of angles. They do not pose a risk.”