Del Monte testing genetically modified pineappleGenetically modified pineapple grown in Costa Rica by Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. Inc. gained the approval of the U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this year.

However, according to a statement from Del Monte officials April 26, the new pineapple variety dubbed Rose is "in a testing phase."

"The USDA"s decision does not mean that Rose is in commercial distribution it is in a testing phase. Del Monte intends to continue to test Rose and will communicate more details when appropriate," according to the statement from Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing in North America for the Coral Gables, Fla., produce company.

"Del Monte Fresh Produce has a very active research and development program designed to explore new varieties and new agricultural techniques. The results of these research projects may or may not lead to commercialization depending on many factors including regulatory approvals by the relevant governmental authorities where and when applicable."

Del Monte officials wrote to the USDA"s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in July 2012 seeking approval for its patent-pending Rose pineapple. Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator of biotechnology regulatory services at APHIS responded with the agency"s OK on Jan. 25, but the response was not made public until late April.

Del Monte testing genetically modified pineappleBefore the new pineapple can be imported to the U.S., Del Monte must complete a food safety consultation with the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA"s website listing approved consultations did not show any pineapple reqults as of April 26.

"APHIS confirms that the harvested Del Monte Rose pineapple as described in your documentation does not require an importation or interstate movement permit under (federal code)," according to Gregoire"s letter.

"… fruit from the Del Monte Rose pineapple cultivar does not have the ability to propagate and persist in the environment once they have been harvested."

In its request to APHIS, Del Monte described the new pineapple variety as having rose-colored flesh.

"To achieve its novel fruit color, Del Monte Fresh has altered expression of genes involved in lycopene biosynthesis to increase levels in edible tissues of pineapple fruit," according to Del Monte"s request. "The genes of interest are derived from edible plant species, pineapple and tangerine."

Various Costa Rican media report the Coral Gables, Fla.-based fresh produce company has been working with Costa Rican growers to develop the new pineapple variety since 2005. When the Costa Rican government OK"d expanded plantings in 2011, some environmental groups in the country expressed concerns.

According to its letter to APHIS, 65% of the pineapple Del Monte imports to the U.S. is sold to the fresh sector. Another 15% goes to fresh cut, with the remainder going to juice and frozen products. The new genetically modified variety would be sold in the same channels and at about the same percentages as Del Monte Gold pineapple, according to the letter.

The 2012 financial report from Del Monte showed about a third of the company"s fresh produce sales are from commodities grown in Costa Rica.