On Friday, the USDA’s Biotechnology Regulatory Service (BRS) announced that it has approved the first genetically engineered apple that doesn’t brown when cut open. The agency said that the fruit posed no threat to other trees or pests.
It is the first time the USDA approves a GE plant that is tweaked in the benefit of the consumer, rather than of the producer. Other previous requests for approval involved crops that were resistant to pests or drought. Additionally, Canada-based Okanagan Specialty Fruit, the company that got the approval, is a new player in the GMO industry.
Its apple, dubbed the Arctic Apple, will come in two varieties – Golden and Granny, but won’t be at grocery stores yet because it needs one final approval from the FDA. Okanagan announced that the new browning-free apple will prevent food waste and the loss of valuable nutrients.
The company also said that the GE version of the apple will be even healthier than regular apples because cooks won’t have to spray them with citric acid to keep them from browning.
Some experts say that Okanagan’s new apple will encourage even more start-ups to enter the GMO business, which is now monopolized by six giants – Monsanto, BASF, Syngenta, Bayer Crop Sciences, DuPont Pioneer, and Dow AgroSciences.
Jennifer Armen, Okanagan’s marketing director, said that for most small companies to try to enter such an industry is a challenging task since not many have the necessary support from lobbyists and politicians to obtain the approvals.
Additionally, getting a new plant approved by the USDA is extremely pricey. CropLife found that a GE plant needs about 35 million for federal testing and registration, $31 million for research, and $71 million more for development.
But BRS said that commercializing a biotech product wasn’t a rich man’s game, as most people believe, since the agency is “happy to accept a petition from anyone.” BRS also explained that it is not encouraging people to genetically engineer plants, it only approves their products.
BRS needed 36 months to approve the new variety of apple, which is nearly three times more than the BRS’ usual average waiting time (13 to 15 months).
Most other BRS applications involved corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa and sugar beets, and were issued by the six major biotech companies mentioned above. The genetic enhancements were related to pest or herbicide resistance. It is the first time a company asks for an anti-browning feature approval.
Still, the consumers will be the ones to give the apple its final approval since hot debates are on their way.
Image Source: Gde-Fon