Apples are, without a doubt, one of the most diversely cultivated fruits in the Northern Temperate climates. Long before modern-day humans existed, the wild apple progenitor had evolved in Central Asia, where it can be found to this day.
Its image is interwoven into the rich fabric of human history. Throughout the ages it has been featured in countless artistic works from paintings and sculptures to domestic needlework. The apple has served as a central icon in many well-known mythical stories and fairy tales, representing aspects of the human condition as diverse as temptation, jealousy, wisdom, love, health and respect.
Over the last 6500 years domestic breeding has produced thousands of varieties of apples worldwide. And so, it is with a feeling of profound disappointment that we have learned that a company from British Columbia, Canada has developed the genetically modified Arctic apple, which has recently been approved in both Canada and the United States.
Neal Carter, president and founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, was recently quoted by the Canadian Press as saying, “We know that in a convenience-driven world, a whole apple is too big of a commitment.”
After some investigation, it seems that the sole motivation for Okanagan Specialty Fruits’ non-browning apple is to serve the “fresh-cut food sector and the pre-packaged lunch sector markets.” What does this all mean? It means that slices of apple can be sold enclosed in plastic and can be left on store shelves for up to eighteen days without turning brown.
This so-called economically important market is growing rapidly, and food in this sector is always enclosed in plastic packaging, and in some cases, on Styrofoam trays. The Arctic apple is a completely unnecessary addition to a world already literally choking on its own plastic waste, a world that ought to be moving toward a more environmentally healthy and sustainable way of life.
The fresh-cut food market is contributing needlessly to the increase in plastic packaging and is encouraging the growing market of individualism. The number of individually packaged, single servings of products lining supermarket shelves today is overwhelming. From tablespoon-sized portions of yogurt to single-cup serving coffee pods, this inundation of plastic packaging flies in the face of the dire need to heal our planet from the ravages of consumerism.
This has to be one of the most environmentally damaging marketing schemes in history. From a business point of view, though, it is a most Utopian of situations, as pre-packaged, bite-sized portions can be sold for a higher per-unit price while conveying a seemingly reasonable purchase to the consumer. If this apple garners public acceptance, it will simply be another indicator of how far western societies have become distanced from their food.
Long before the apple was domesticated, Nature had perfected its design. With its own nutrient-dense edible packaging, the apple is already the ultimate convenience food. What could be more convenient, healthful and environmentally-friendly than to include a whole apple in a child’s lunch? For situations that call for sliced apples, there already exist several slow-browning heritage and conventionally-grown varieties such as the Ambrosia, Eden and Poppy. And there are many conventional varieties of apples that, left uncut, store well and can last up to 4-9 months in cold rooms without any treatment. Among them are the Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Empire and MacIntosh.
The genetically modified, non-browning apple is inherently dishonest because it fools the consumer into believing that it is freshly sliced. How old will this apple be when it reaches store shelves, and without the usual visual cues to indicate the apples have started the decaying process, will the temptation to extend their shelf- life exist? Once the apple has exceded its shelf-life, it still needs to be disposed of, and even if it is removed from its packaging and composted, both the consumer and the Earth have the plastic packaging to contend with.
The USDA risk assessment claims that “deregulation (of the genetically modified apple) is not likely to have a significant impact on the human environment.”
Marketers often make questionable claims when promoting a product, and those promoting the Arctic apple are no exception. The Okanagan Specialty Fruits’ website targets various consumer groups, among them are fathers and people battling obesity. The claim is that “More and more dads are doing at least half of the shopping for their families.” And, as compared to women, “… men have a particularly high desire for convenient, ready-to-eat foods.”
As for those consumers trying to lose weight, the site fails to make the connection between weight loss and a non-browning fruit. Is this group of consumers also too incompetent to slice an apple? Or are they more likely to choose a genetically modified apple than a traditional one over an unhealthy snack because it is sliced and packaged in plastic?
Unfortunately, Okanagan Specialty Fruits was in no way influenced by overwhelming opposition from the BC Fruit Growers’ Association and the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, the largest apple producing area in the province of British Columbia.
Okanagan Specialty Fruits has been acquired by Intrexon, a large US-based firm with plans to modify more apples and other types of produce using the same non-browning technology, effectively eliminating an important indication that the fruit has begun the decaying process. Compounding that deception is the fact that the genetically modified produce will not be labelled as such.
In an interview with CBC Radio, Neal Carter ineffectually danced around the question of why the fruit will not be labelled as GM.
The well-known adage “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” speaks to the apple’s nutritional properties; the description “as American as apple pie” refers to the notions of basic liberties and freedoms; the act of presenting a teacher with an apple embodies respect for learning and wisdom. Hopefully, that respect for wisdom, learning and freedom symbolized by the beloved apple will extend to its becoming emblematic of the protection of naturally occurring genetic and biological diversity and the basic freedom to know if one’s food has been genetically modified.
1. Cornille A., Gladieux P., Smulders M. J. M Roldán-Ruiz I., Laurens F., Le Cam B., Nersesyan A., Clavel J., Olonova M., Feugey L., Gabrielyan I., Zhang X., TenaillonM.I., Giraud T., New Insight into the History of Domesticated Apple: Secondary Contribution of the European Wild Apple to the Genome of Cultivated Varieties PLOS Genetics Published: May 10, 2012 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002703 Retrieved from:
2. Jalonick M.C., Ridler K., Canadian, U.S. agencies approve genetically engineered B.C. apples as safe, The Associated Press Oneline News from the Canadian Press 2015 Retrieved from:
https://www.thecanadianpress.com/english/online/OnlineFullStory.aspx?filename=DOR-MNN- CP.78bea90c08494413aa11ba9fbccc0d2c.CPKEY2008111300≠wsitemid=32371840〈uageid= 1
3. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Stakeholders Announcement USDA Announces Deregulation of Non-Browning Apples Retrieved from:
4. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) USDA Announces Deregulation of Non-Browning Apples February 13, 2015, Retrieved from:
5. Joel’s Blog, Dads shopping more than ever before, looking for convenient options Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. Summerland, B.C Canada Thu, 2014-06-12 09:04 Retrived from:
6. Food Fight: Canada’s newly approved GM apple-Home –CBC Thursday March 26, 2015 Retrieved from: