Would You Eat a Non-Browning Apple?


Careful, it might turn brown! [Photograph: willcarden on Flickr]

So let's say you're making a fruit salad. You slice up some strawberries, perhaps a kiwi or two, halve a bunch of grapes. Then you reach for your pile of Gala apples, chop them into bite size chunks, and turn to grab a serving spoon. You return to the counter and—no! Your apples are no longer white, juicy, and appealing—instead, they've turned an awful shade of light brown!

Such traumatic kitchen incidents are commonplace throughout our apple-obsessed nation. Surely tens of children are turned off from slightly discolored Braeburns each week. Well, the USDA was recently petitioned to approve a substitute product to solve all our problems: a genetically modified, non-browning apple.

Perhaps I hyperbolize (and, OK, mock just a little) the emotion wrapped up in sadly consuming a browned apple. But Okanagan Speciality Fruits, the Canadian agriculture biotechnology company that spent five years developing this special apple, believes in its product's market potential. OSF stresses that its non-browning apple will have an impact on everyone, from consumers to packagers to retailers. And I do suppose it's feasible that a non-browning apple could lead to a "more enjoyable eating experience" for shoppers.

But it's more likely that those on the retail side of fruit production would benefit from this product. Packers would enjoy the fact that GM apples, which so far include popular varieties such as Gala and Fuji, don't bruise or blemish as easily. Producers could harvest mechanically without fear of discoloration and therefore wasting a good crop. And retailers could rely on pre-made apple-containing packaged foods to remain fresh-looking on display.

However, counteracting all these benefits are the usual arguments against genetically-modified foods. Detractors from the technology argue that GM foods needlessly manipulate nature, could potentially cross-pollinate non-GM fields surrounding the GM crops, and pose moral and ethical dilemmas when applied widely. The USDA has stated that they are aware of these concerns and will take them into account when considering approval of the GM apples.

My general question pertaining to these new strains of apples is—why? Going through the USDA approval process could take years, and OSF would face much backlash from anti-GM activists along the way. Expensive replanting operations would have to be undertaken once the fruit was approved, and consumers would then have to be on board with "genetically modified" gracing their apple stand. So I turn to you, serious eaters—what are the benefits to this technology? Should the USDA move forward with the approval process, or leave us to struggle with our browned fruit salads?

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves consuming and learning about as much food as possible. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine. She blogs at Feasting on Providence.