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Non-browning apples may be on store shelves soon(ish)

Genetically modified Arctic apples clear a government hurdle and look ahead to landing in a grocery store near you.

Arctic apple
A regular apple, on the left, shows brown spots, while an Arctic apple has a clearer appearance.. Okanagan Specialty Fruits

Apples are perfect little packages of fruity delight. They're portable, stocked with vitamin C and an excellent source of fiber. It's convenient to slice them up for serving, but that's when an image issue sometimes crops up. Apples have a tendency to turn brown when sliced due to oxidation. They taste just as good, but they don't look as good.

Enter Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny apples, genetically modified fruits developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits in Canada. These apples resist browning when sliced. The biotech fruits were developed through a gene-silencing process so they avoid the chemical reaction responsible for browning. The result is apples that can be cut up and left out without the unattractive appearance of brown flesh.

In a major step toward bringing the apples to market, the US Department of Agriculture last week announced a decision to deregulate the Arctics. The USDA found "the GE apples are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agriculture and other plants in the United States." Okanagan is now involved in a food-safety assessment consultation with the Food and Drug Administration.

The Arctic apples have been grown in field trials for over 10 years. Okanagan describes them as "likely the most tested apples on the planet." The deregulation decision is just the start of a process that could last years before we might expect to see Arctic apples widely available in produce aisles.

"Our focus is working with growers to get trees in the ground. As more trees are planted and they come into commercial production, there will be a slow, but steady market introduction," says Neal Carter, president and founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruits. He expects the apples to be sold in test markets in late 2016.