WASHINGTON, Dec. 31, 2013 – A new year, a new chance for the public to comment on the controversial genetically engineered Arctic Apple. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) today announced the apple’s plant pest risk assessment and draft environmental assessment will be reopened for public comment through Jan. 30.
In a letter to stakeholders, APHIS said it was reopening the comment period “due to numerous request for additional time to prepare and submit comments.” Theoriginal deadline was Dec. 9.
APHIS officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The apple, engineered to resist browning by Canadian company Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. (OSF), has received the thumbs-up from U.S. government scientists. In November, APHIS recommended two varieties of the apple (Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny) be granted non-regulation status.
APHIS concluded in its environmental assessment that the non-browning apples “have the potential to improve fruit processing capabilities for maintain the quality and shelf life of apples.”
While an OSF spokesman predicted earlier this month that the apple would receive approval in early 2014 and could appear on grocery shelves in fall 2015, it is unclear whether this new comment period will lengthen the approval timeline. OSF President Neal Carter said today he still expected a final decision on deregulation “in early 2014."
“We are pleased that the public will continue to have ample opportunity to review APHIS' risk assessments, both of which show our nonbrowning apples are just as safe for the environment as any other apple,” Carter said in a statement.
But the apple has received flak from a group of strange political bedfellows.
Anti-biotechnology groups have claimed the apple could have adverse affects on human health. Other opponents say consumers would no longer be able to determine the apple’s freshness due to its non-browning properties.
The U.S. Apple Association also initially said it was against the approval of the non-browning apple – though not because the group believes the product is unsafe, stressed Wendy Brannen, director of consumer health and public affairs.
Instead, the group said it doubted “the consumer demand was there for those (non-browning) attributes.”
Now that approval seems more likely, however, Brannen says the Arctic apple's success “will become a matter of consumer choice.”
This article was updated at 12:50 PM.