The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved apples and potatoes which are resistant to bruises and don’t go brown as safe to eat. Consumer and environmental groups are concerned that such products could have unknown risks to human health.
In a rare press announcement on GMO crops, the FDA said the gene-altered apples and potatoes
are good for commercial plating since they are “as safe and
nutritious as their conventional counterparts“.
The decision increases
these products’ chances of finally appearing on the grocery
The approval covers six kinds of potatoes by Boise, Idaho-based
J. R. Simplot Co. and two types of apples by the Canadian company
Okanagan Specialty Fruits.
The US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service approved them as being safe in mid-February.
This authority is, however, primarily concerned with crops not
posing threat to other plants, while the FDA considers food
Okanagan Specialty Fruits developedthe so-called ‘Arctic Apples’
to decrease fruit wastage as slices which do not go brown look
more attractive to consumers, and are easier to both transport
and sell without spoilage. Scientists changed the strains’
genomes to cut the production of key enzymes which are involved
in the browning process.
The J. R. Simplot Company went further and said their Innate
potatoes which resist the formation of black spot bruises,
produce less acrylamide – a potential cancer-causing chemical–
when they are fried.
Despite the positive reviews from authorities, consumer and
environmental activists have been opposing the new crop,
insisting that genetically modified food may have potential
dangers which are as of yet undisclosed. According to Greg Jaffe,
Director of the Project on Biotechnology for the Center for
Science in the Public Interest, “Congress should pass
legislation that requires new biotech crops to undergo a rigorous
and mandatory approval process before foods made from those crops
reach the marketplace. Such a system would give consumers much
greater confidence that all genetically engineered products have
been independently reviewed and found to be safe.”
They also criticized the FDA for the “cursory” data checks given
by companies producing such products.
The FDA has been accused of using words and phrases that sound
more like the company’s conclusion than their own. In particular,
the letter to Okanagan says: “It is our understanding”
that Okanagan “has concluded” that the apples do not
differ much in safety and nutrition from other apples.
Some apple growing companies, processors and exporters have
already expressed their concerns that the GM apple will spoil the
fruit’s image and deter customers.
— Richard Lobb (@RLobb) February
Okanagan Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA) president, Fred
Steele, has said: “If you’re going to let the market decide,
you’re going to have to give people a reference point to make a
decision based on their personal purchasing habits, and I would
assume that would be through some kind of labeling. If the Artic
Apple isn’t labeled as a genetically modified (GMO) product,
consumers who don’t want to buy modified foods might want to stay
away from all apples, including those that are non-GMO.”
There are also concerns that apple exports to countries which do
not like GM products may be hit as well.
It’s still not clear if Okagan and Simplot will label their
products. FDA is currently reviewing two petitions to require
labeling but the decision is yet to be made.
Simplot’s spokesman Doug Cole also says their company is selling
seeds to growers and cannot be responsible over whether the final
products will be labeled or not. But the company would urge their
partners to label the products in a way which points out its
benefits like saying ‘less bruising’ just as it is done with
The first apple crops are expected on the US market in 2017.
Potatoes may become available in just a few months.