The first genetically engineered apple of its kind has been approved by the USDA. The genetic engineering technique is a form of genetic engineering called RNA interference or gene silencing, to prevent browning after bruising or slicing. No labeling will be required raising considerable concern among consumer safety advocates. RNA interference, or RNAi, is based on the manipulation of RNA molecules in order to dial back the expression of, or silence, genes.
The Arctic Apple has been engineered to reduce polyphenol oxidase (PPO) enzymes responsible for browning in apple flesh after bruising. However, these enzymes are also found throughout the tree, where impacts of the engineering were not determined. In addition, recent studies show that interference targeting one gene might unpredictably turn off, or down, unrelated genes.
The USDA approval allows commercial production of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties of Okanagan’s non-browning “Arctic” apple, and the company has Fuji and Gala versions on the horizon.
Consumer advocates cite safety concerns as no adequate risk assessment has analyzed the potential for an adverse health or environmental impact.
“This product is completely unnecessary and poses numerous risks to apple growers, the food industry and consumers,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety. “For USDA to turn a blind eye to these risks for such an inessential technological ‘advance’ is foolish and potentially costly.”
“This decision is scientifically irresponsible and misguided,” said Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist at Center for Food Safety. “The agency has failed to analyze whether suppressing fruit browning with these novel RNAs impacts the rest of the gene family in the tree, or whether there are off-target impacts on other genes. USDA should hold off on deregulating RNAi-engineered crops until they have gotten a grip on the latest research in this area.”
The Center for Food Safety has published its criticism of the apple: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/refs-added-cfs-comments-on-docket-no-aphis-2012-0025-arctic-apples–with-references_09957.pdf
Center for Food Safety