RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
If you don't like the sight of brown apple slices, we have news that might be appealing. If you don't like scientists fiddling with your food, you may have different feelings about this. Government regulators have approved the first genetically modified apple. Here to tell us about it is NPR's Dan Charles, who covers food and farming.
DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: So, a genetically modified apple that does not brown? Tell me more. What does this mean?
CHARLES: There is a small company in British Columbia in Canada, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, that has inserted new genes into two familiar apple varieties - Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. These are extra copies of genes that apples already have. Well, the effect is it silences those genes so the apple produces less of the enzyme that makes the apple flesh turn brown when you cut it open.
MARTIN: OK so, I hear that and think, all right, I guess on the one hand that's a good idea. Your apples won't brown. But there's part of me that thinks that doesn't seem natural, I don't know if I want to eat that apple.
CHARLES: Right. Well, the company thinks there's a market for this. I guess potentially, theoretically, it could be people who cut up apples to put in their kids' lunches. But the big market, they say, is in food service. The sliced, prepared apples that currently they have to keep from turning brown in other ways - they wash them in some version of, you know, what you do in your kitchen with the lemon juice. But there are other people who do not want this apple at all. There are biotech critics who say the technology needs to be studied more carefully. There are consumer groups who say, you know, this shouldn't be foisted on the public. But there are also very important parts of the apple industry who say this is a really bad idea because they know that there's consumer concern about genetic engineering, about GMOs and they're worried that there will be a consumer backlash against all apples.
MARTIN: OK so, is this likely to appear on my grocery store shelves, and how will I know? Are they going to advertise it - apples that don't brown?
CHARLES: Well, the Department of Agriculture has now approved this, but that doesn't mean it's going to show up right away. It'll take several years at least, before they even have enough apple trees growing to provide a mass-market. If it showed up on supermarket shelves, you would know because it's called its name. These are Arctic apples. That's the trade name. If it was in food service people wouldn't necessarily know. So that's going to be, you know, an issue. But there's a lot of uncertainty about whether growers will actually grow a lot of these apples because they don't want to grow them if they don't think that they can sell them. And right now we don't know whether the big customers are going to sign up to buy these apples.
MARTIN: Important question - bottom line, do they taste different?
CHARLES: Well, I don't know personally because I haven't tasted them. But according to the company, they taste just like regular old Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples.
MARTIN: OK. We'll see. NPR food and agricultural correspondent, Dan Charles.
Thanks so much, Dan.
CHARLES: Nice to be here.
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