(Reuters) - U.S. regulators on Friday approved two genetically engineered apple varieties designed to resist browning, rejecting efforts by the organic industry and other GMO critics to block the new fruit.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) approved the new apples, developed by the Canadian biotech company Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., as “unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agriculture.”
Okanagan plans to market the apples as Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden, and says the apples are identical to their conventional counterparts except that they will not turn brown.
Okanagan President Neal Carter, called the USDA approval a “a monumental occasion.”
“It is the biggest milestone yet for us, and we can’t wait until they’re available for consumers,” he said in a statement.
Carter said Arctic apples will first be available in late 2016 in small quantities, and it will take many years before the apples are widely distributed.
The company has said that due to concerns about consumer acceptance of GMO foods, it is using only tree fruit genes in its development of the apples.
Genetically engineered corn, soy and other crops that have drawn criticism from consumer groups are spliced with genetic material from bacteria or other organisms.
Still, the new Okanagan apples have drawn opposition. The Organic Consumers Association petitioned the USDA to deny approval. The group says the genetic changes that prevent browning could be harmful to human health.
As well, Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), said apples are typically sprayed with dozens of different pesticides and the genetic tinkering will allow for more pesticide treatment.
The OCA will be pressuring food companies and retail outlets not to make use of the apples, Cummins said.
“This whole thing is just another big experiment on humans for no good reason,” he said.