Non-browning Fuji apple set to gain APHIS approval

By Stephen Davies

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 2016 - USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service plans to approve a new “non-browning” variety of Fuji apple after concluding it does not pose a risk to human health or the environment.

Developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits in Washington state, the NF872 cultivar has been bioengineered to be resistant to enzymatic browning. It would be the third in the company's Arctic Apple line to gain APHIS approval; the first two are Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties, known as Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden.

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In its Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), APHIS relied on the environmental analysis it already performed on those two varieties. It said approval of the new variety will not change consumer demand for other apples including conventional or organic varieties. Nor will it “result in any changes to current planting, fertilizer application/use, cultivation, or pesticide application use,” APHIS said.

In addition, “The impact of NF872 apple on wildlife or biodiversity is not different than that of other apple varieties currently used in conventional agriculture in the United States,” APHIS said.

OSF's cultivars were developed “by inserting a polyphenol oxidase (PPO) suppression sequence derived from apples which involved plant pest sequences during the engineering process,” APHIS said in its assessment. “When apples containing the inserted gene are subjected to mechanical damage, such as slicing or bruising, the apple flesh does not brown as an untransformed apple does, but rather remains its original color. This non-browning trait reduces the need for anti-browning agents on cut fruit and minimizes losses caused by harvest and postharvest damage.”

APHIS received thousands of comments on the two varieties of apples that had been approved earlier for commercialization. Many were negative: Food & Water Watch, for example, said its concerns included “a lack of data on the environmental risks associated with weakened plant defenses for apples with PPO suppression, genetic contamination of non-GE and organic apple orchards, economic risks from GE contamination and opposition from apple growers, the health impacts on consumers and the potential market rejection of this GE food.”

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But there also were comments such as the one submitted by Duarte Nursery near Modesto, California, which calls itself “the largest permanent crops nursery in the United States.”

“The non-browning apple will help extend the usefulness of apples in children's lunches, food service and in juice processing,” Duarte said. “The apples are proven safe and will add to the sustainability of apples in our food system by reducing waste.”

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