GMO apples that never brown could hit stores soon

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(CNN) –¬†For a select few apple lovers in the US, a Golden Delicious slice will no longer turn brown as the first genetically modified apples are expected to go on sale early next month.

A small amount of Arctic brand sliced and packaged Golden Delicious apples, produced by Okanagan Specialty Fruits in British Columbia, Canada, will hit the shelves of 10 stores in the Midwest in February and March, Neal Carter, the company’s founder and president, told the agricultural news website Capital Press. Arctic’s website lists the apples as being available early this year in some test markets.

Carter said Midwestern stores were the first choice because they seemed like a good fit demographically and in size. He wouldn’t name the stores, stating it’s up to retailers to announce that they’ll be selling the non-browning apples.

“We’re very optimistic with respect to this product because people love it at trade shows,” he said earlier this month. “It’s a great product and the eating quality is excellent.”

Along with not turning brown, the apples should also be crispier in texture — possibly winning over some picky eaters.

Nearly two years ago, the US Department of Agriculture approved the US’s first genetically modified apples.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service granted its approval based on “a final plant pest risk assessment that finds the GE (genetically engineered) apples are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agriculture and other plants in the United States … [and] deregulation is not likely to have a significant impact on the human environment,” as stated in their report.

The Food and Drug Administration is not required to approve genetically engineered crops for consumption. Most companies engage in a voluntary safety review process with the FDA, and Okanagan did that.

The US Apple Association was wary of Arctic’s apple after the USDA approval, but the group has since taken a more neutral stance.

“US Apple supports consumer choice in the apples and apple products they select. Consumers will be able to decide whether to try the new, “non-browning” apples, and ultimately, the marketplace will determine whether there is a demand for them,” state the association on their website.

Browning is natural, but…

There’s nothing technically wrong with an apple that browns.

It all comes down to oxygen being introduced into plant tissue when an apple is sliced, bruised or bitten.

The US Apple association explains: “The degree to which an apple browns depends upon that variety’s natural levels of polyphenoloxydase (PPL) and Vitamin C (ascorbic acid). The lower the level of PPL, the less the variety will brown.

But Okanagan Specialty Fruits describes the process a bit differently: “Polyphenol oxidase (PPO) found in one part of the cell mixes with polyphenolics found in another part of the cell. (PPO is a plant enzyme. Polyphenolics are one of the many types of chemical substrate that serve various purposes, including supplying apples with their aroma and flavor.) When PPO and polyphenolics mix, brown-toned melanin is left behind,” they state on their website.

When brown, an apple isn’t necessarily rotten, but Okanagan claim the benefits of non-browning apples go beyond the visual appeal and a reduction in waste. The company says stores or producers often use expensive chemicals to delay the browning of apples and many shoppers frown at the idea of chemicals or pesticides on their produce.

The consensus among scientists and nutritionists is that GMOs are safe, but some consumers are still turned off by GMO labels.

Though the apples are only being trialed in the Midwest, the company have faith they will soon become a welcome option elsewhere.