The first non-browning, genetically modified apple is shipping to US groceries

The Arctic apple has arrived.
The Arctic apple has arrived.
Image: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
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A new biotech apple is about to hit grocery stores across the US as the country’s first harvest of the genetically modified (GM) fruit ships from orchards in Washington state.

Unlike regular apples, this new variation on the fruit, commonly called the “Arctic apple,” does not brown when cut and exposed to oxygen. It will be sold as a sliced apple product in 10-ounce bags, available at 400 Midwest grocery stores early this month, according to Bloomberg.

The Arctic apple, owned by Canada-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits, isn’t a new invention. Scientists have been tinkering with it for more than two decades, leading up to the 2015 deregulation (pdf) of the product by the USDA. And it’s not actually a type of apple variety—the Arctic apple comes in at least three varieties, including Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, and Fuji.

Typical apples brown because a chemical reaction occurs when an enzyme in apples called polyphenol oxidase is exposed to oxygen. The Arctic apple has been genetically altered to have less polyphenol oxidase. Such genetic reworking is common as scientists have worked on creating new GM foods, including salmon that have been re-outfitted with eel DNA and low-fat pigs that have been altered with mouse DNA.

The apple could be a key trial run to see if these sorts of GM products can be commercially successful in the US. On one hand, the non-browning element could help make a small nick in America’s massive food waste problem, and maybe entice more people to eat fresh fruit. On the other hand, the food-buying public has been leery of genetically modified products in recent years, which has led to organized efforts to mandate all GM foods be labelled.

In 2016, voters in Vermont elected to require food companies to label products derived from GM foods. Only a few months later, then-president Barack Obama signed federal legislation— overriding Vermont’s new law—that gave the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) two years to finalize new GM food labeling standards, putting wheels in motion to prepare the government for a wave of new types of GM products.