National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

The federal docket where the USDA is taking comments on the deregulation of the Arctic GMO apple continues to draw heavy traffic.  With the comment period ending Sept. 11, there are well over 1,100 comments on the petition to deregulate.

Most comments are running negative, similar to this comment:

I am a consumer and a concerned parent. I am writing to urge you not to approve Okanagan Specialty Fruit's petition for deregulation of its nonbrowning "Arctic" apple.

The manipulation of such a commonly grown fruit could cause contamination of nearby organic or conventional apple orchards, and unlabeled GMO apples could find their way into non-GMO fruit slices and juice at the processing level. Also, the Arctic apple's nonbrowning appearance could mask the age of apples and mislead consumers into thinking that GMO apples are fresher than they really are.

The U.S. Apple Association and grower groups already have voiced their disapproval of these GMO apples due to the negative impact they could have on the non-GMO apple industry. And without a label, consumers may unknowingly purchase and consume Arctic apples.

This product is unnecessary and poses several risks to the apple industry and consumers in exchange for a fix to a minor aesthetic flaw. In its environmental review, USDA should choose the no action alternative and not approve this GMO apple variety. Sincerely, Jackie Gerding


Yet, there are voices of support, like this example from Steve Savage,  that urge the USDA to approve the variety:

To whom it may concern, I believe that the Arctic apples should definitely be approved. Many who have commented do not seem to realize that these apples will be explicitly labeled as biotech apples and their non-browning character will be advertised as such. Unlike grains, identity preservation is the norm in the apple industry and consumers pick specific varieties that suit their taste.

This will be no different. If someone does not want to eat them, they can simply buy other apples. Some may raise the issue of "genetic contamination." In the rare event that a bee moves from an Arctic apple block to another, the only thing in the resulting apples will be embryos in seeds.

Without a very sensitive test one would never even be able to find them. Since apples are not grown from seed and since seeds are slightly toxic and should not be eaten, this is a non-event. The precedent for Organic is that any unintentional synthetic pesticide residue is not grounds for losing certification. I don't see why that would not be the rule here as well.

The gene silencing method used with these apples is a mechanism which is common for natural gene regulation. Far more genes are "off" than on in any eukaryotic cells. I believe that consumers who know that biotech crops are perfectly safe should have the opportunity to try these apples. The US has not imitated the Europeans.

We do not let politics and scaremongering trump science. There have been dozens of independent, long-term feeding studies that have demonstrated the safety of biotech crops. I believe that it is unfortunate that some in the apple industry have swiftly taken the stance that they don't want the trouble of having this option. I understand their concerns, but I don't believe that it is ever a good idea to give in to anti-science voices. I am confident that the USDA will continue its adherence to sound science when making this decision.


It is interesting to note that apple industry opposition to the Arctic apple draws notice from both camps. In pursuit of a definitive pulse of the broader industry on this issue, I ask a simple question to readers. Should the USDA approve the GMO Arctic apple?

Vote and join the conversation on the topic both in this space and the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group.