Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Yakima Herald Republic | Genetically modified apples raise concerns

Yakima Herald Republic | Genetically modified apples raise concerns

Neal Carter wants to bring some interest and excitement to those big displays of apples in the local supermarket.
The Summerland, British Columbia, apple grower and agricultural engineer wants to introduce consumers to an apple that is different from anything they have seen before. While his company’s Arctic apples look the same on the outside, the difference is locked inside. The fruit has been genetically modified to inhibit browning of the flesh when the apple is cut or bitten into.

Carter is founder and president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which is seeking federal approval to market two of the modified varieties, Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny apples. The U.S. Department of Agriculture could make a decision by June.

Carter, 55, argues that a favorable ruling would do for apples what baby carrots did — bring some sorely needed buzz to a tired segment of the market. Baby carrot sales doubled in 1990. Apple per capita consumption has gradually declined to less than 16 pounds per year from a high of more than 21 pounds about two decades ago, according to the USDA.

“Apples come in the perfect package. But as a snack food, they are too much to handle at one time. People want to cut the apple and eat it bit by bit,” said Carter in a telephone interview. “If we could make an apple that wouldn’t go brown ... that would be huge to have people consume more apples.”

The apple industry is not so sure.

In fact, industry groups submitted testimony opposing the application to deregulate the genetically modified apple. Industry heavyweights are raising the concern: the U.S. Apple Association, the Washington State Horticultural Association, the Washington Apple Commission and the Northwest Horticultural Council.

Opponents say eliminating browning isn’t a sufficiently significant advance to offset the uncertainty the first genetically modified apple would cause among consumers, said Chris Schlect of Yakima, horticultural association president.

Schlect said tremendous controversy continues to swirl around genetic engineering of food.
“There are a lot of advocacy groups that don’t like the idea of genetically modified ag products. You have a lot of consumers who don’t like this idea,” Schlect said. “In the marketing sphere, it creates headaches. We took a position we would just as soon not see it.”

The fruit industry also opposes the labeling initiative and similar efforts in as many as 30 states. While no genetically modified apples are in circulation at the moment, the industry is concerned about trying to comply with what could be different labeling requirements in different states.

Jon DeVaney, executive director of the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association in Yakima, said state labeling requirements pose costly barriers to interstate commerce.

“It would be prohibitively expensive and wasteful to force fruit packers and shippers to have 50 different boxes to meet specific labeling requirements of customers in different states,” he said. “Food safety and labeling are already regulated at the federal level and any proposed changes should be addressed there as well.”

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