U.S. industry shows little interest in genetically modified apple

12/03/2010 12:38:39 PM
Don Schrack

As consumer demand for fresh-cut and value-added products steadily increased, apple marketers rushed to solve the “browning” problem.

Processors found the answer with coatings like NatureSeal, which inhibit browning for weeks, and the sliced apple market has been a success story at retail and foodservice for the past 10 years.

It appears U.S. apple grower-shippers are not enthusiastic about a genetically modified anti-browning variety a Canadian biotechnology firm is attempting to introduce.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Summerland, British Columbia, is seeking U.S. Department of Agriculture approval for domestic growing and marketing of Arctic, a variety the company said does not brown when the apple is sliced.

Even if the approval is granted, there are perhaps larger hurdles.

“There tends to be some opposition,” said Sharon Miracle, corporate communications manager for Tree Top Inc., Selah, Wash., which markets fresh and frozen sliced and diced apple products. “Some of our customers require certification that we do not use genetically modified fruits.”

At Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash., marketing and communications manager Loren Queen said a GM apple is not “even on our radar.”

Consumer resistance to genetically modified fruit has pushed the issue to the back burner at Yakima-based Sage Fruit Co. LLC, said Chuck Sinks, vice president of sales. The topic is so low on the priority list that the company has not established a policy on such food items.

“It’s never been formally discussed,” Sinks said.

There has been some acceptance on the global market of modified products, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Wenatchee-based Washington State Apple Commission, referring to rice and wheat.

“But the apple deal is very much different,” he said. “If there’s a demand for a purple apple, we’re going to find a way to grow a purple apple,” he said. “But we don’t see a perception or a factual need for non-browning apples.”

While modifications may offer some benefits, the fresh apple industry sees no consumer acceptance, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director at Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee.

“Growing products that are misunderstood or not accepted will benefit no one financially,” he said.

The U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va., doesn’t oppose research into GM apples.

“We support research-based, science-based regulatory structure, which allows tree fruit biotechnology to progress, but also protects human health and the environment,” said Allison Parker, the association’s director of consumer health and education.

Once again, however, whether consumers would buy non-browning apples is another issue.

“That’s what we’re trying to determine,” Parker said.

It appears Okanagan Specialty Fruit may have difficulty finding interested U.S. grower-shippers.

Neal Carter, president, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that the technology would make sliced apple production cheaper and increase use in salads and other quick meals.

Carter did not return calls for comment Dec. 2.

Andre Bell, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service spokesman, said Okanagan Specialty Fruits submitted a petition for deregulation of the genetically modified non-browning apple on June 30.

Bell said he could not speculate how long it would take the USDA to rule on the petition.

A link describing the USDA’s coordination of biotech regulation requests with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration Agency is at http://usbiotechreg.nbii.gov/.

A link to the table of all the petitions that APHIS has received requesting deregulation of a specific crop is at
http://www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/not_reg.html.

National Editor Tom Karst contributed to this article.



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