After years of development, protest and regulatory red tape, the first genetically modified, non-browning apples will soon go on sale in the United States.
The fruit, sold sliced and marketed under the brand Arctic Apple, could hit a cluster of Midwestern grocery stores as early as Feb. 1. The limited release is an early test run for the controversial apple, which has been genetically modified to eliminate the browning that occurs when an apple is left out in the open air.
Critics and advocates of genetic engineering say the apple could be a turning point in the nation’s highly polarizing debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs). While genetic modifications have in the past been mainly defended as a way to protect crops, the Arctic Apple would be one of the first GMOs marketed directly to consumers as more convenient.
“What companies are desperate for is some really popular GMO product to hit the market,” said McKay Jenkins, the author of a forthcoming history of the debate. “Any successful product could lift the cloud over GMOs.”
Industry executives predict the apple could open a whole new trade in genetically engineered produce, potentially opening the market to pink pineapples, antioxidant-enriched tomatoes and other food in development.
“We see this as less about genetic modification and more about convenience,” said Neal Carter, founder of the company that makes the Arctic Apple. “I think consumers are very ready for apples that don’t go brown. Everyone can identify with that ‘yuck’ factor.”
GMO critics say they are hopeful, however, that consumers will continue to show skepticism about the produce. Despite a growing consensus in scientific circles that GMOs pose little risk, environmental and consumer groups have successfully mounted campaigns against GMOs over the past 30 years, successfully limiting the practice to commodity crops such as soybeans and corn.
Anti-GMO groups have successfully pushed for GMO crop bans in places like Boulder, Colo., and Sonoma, Calif., and several major food brands have agreed not to use genetically modified ingredients. Critics have also questioned how consumers will be able to judge the freshness of sliced apples when they don’t brown.