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This GMO Apple Won't Brown. Will That Sour The Fruit's Image?

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This GMO Apple Won't Brown. Will That Sour The Fruit's Image?

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This GMO Apple Won't Brown. Will That Sour The Fruit's Image?

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

A small Canadian company has used genetic engineering to create an apple that doesn't go brown when you slice it. It's waiting for approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture but it faces opposition. And some apple producers are worried that this new product will taint the apple's wholesome, all-natural image.

NPR's Dan Charles is here to talk about this. And, Dan, first of all, does the world really need an apple that doesn't brown?

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: I'm sure we would do just fine without it. But I have heard of children who will not eat an apple slice that's turned brown at all. And food service companies that serve fresh cut apples, they actually go ahead and treat them with chemicals to make sure they keep looking fresh.

I talked to the president of the company that's making these new apples, these Arctic Apples. It's Okanagan Specialty Fruits in British Columbia, Canada. His name is Neal Carter and he is banking on the idea that those fruit service companies will be interested because they won't have to buy those chemicals.

NEAL CARTER: You know, right now to make fresh cut apple slices and put them in a bag, 35, 40 percent of the cost is the antioxidant treatment they use to make it. So you could make a fresh cut apple slice 30 percent cheaper.

CORNISH: So explain how the Arctic Apple works. How do they do this?

CHARLES: It's interesting. There is an enzyme in the apple that actually produces the browning reaction. And what they did was, the scientists inserted extra copies of the genes that produce that enzyme. And instead of making more, the extra copies actually provoked the apple to shut down action of all those genes - so no enzyme, no browning. Now, the thing is the apple would eventually still rot but it's that immediate browning reaction that stops.

CORNISH: Now how soon could this actually show up in stores?

CHARLES: It's not exactly clear. The USDA has allowed some test plots. It studied the apple and released assessment that says this looks harmless to us. We see no reason to keep regulating it. People are welcome to comment on that assessment and thousands of people have. Most of the comments say: I don't trust it, I don't want this approved. So it's up to the USDA whether to go ahead and approve this and that could happen within a few months. Even after that it would take a few years before there were lots of Arctic apples for sale.

CORNISH: But given the opposition you've described here. It seems like it would be risky for this company to bring it to market.

CHARLES: That is worrying a lot of other people in the apple industry. Some industry groups have could out against this apple, saying it would create hassles. They'd have to keep the genetically-engineered apples separate from the regular apples. And they worry that consumers who don't like GMOs will just be turned off of apples entirely. Now, how many would that be? Not clear.

Neal Carter, the company's president, says they've done market research. They've put actual apples in front of people and asked them: What do you think, would you buy this apple?

CARTER: Typically, it's about 80/20. Eighty percent say fantastic, you know, bring it on. And 20 percent say, hmm, I don't think if like genetic engineering. But they all eat it. Even if they were a naysayer that never was going to eat at any GM fruit, they will eat a slice. Or it's not like we have to ask them to eat a slice. They will ask if they can eat a slice.

CHARLES: So Carter is so much worried about the consumers. He's worried about the grocery stores, whether they will stock this apple because they worried about alienating any consumers, even that 20 percent. They don't want to lose any of them.

CORNISH: Dan Charles, our agribusiness gumshoe. Dan, thanks so much.

CHARLES: Nice to be here.

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