So Much Risk, So Little Benefit.

GMO appleIt was only a matter of time.

The Arctic Apple®, genetically engineered to prevent oxidation, or browning, has been sitting in the pipeline, awaiting approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), since May of 2012. An initial comment period ended in September 2012. Plans initially called for a second and final comment period to open in the spring of 2013.

But with the GMO labeling battle going strong in Washington State—where more apples are grown than anywhere else in the U.S.—all has been silent on the Arctic Apple front for more than a year.

Until now.

No sooner had voters defeated I-522, Washington State’s GMO labeling initiative, than lo and behold, the USDA announced it had opened its second and final comment period before deciding whether or not to deregulate the first GMO apple.

DEADLINE DECEMBER 16 -TAKE ACTION: Tell the USDA You Don’t Want a GMO Apple!

Why the USDA?

Apples are food, right? So you’d think the U.S. Food & Drug Administration would be charged with approving a GMO apple for human consumption. Instead, deregulation of the Arctic Apple is up to the USDA, which is responsible for protecting U.S. agriculture from pests and diseases. How does the agency decide? By performing an assessment of whether or not the Arctic Apple poses a plant risk.

Neal Carter, who developed the Arctic Apple for Okanagan Specialty Fruits, alleges the frankenapple is harmless. “These are the most tested and scrutinized apples in the world, and probably the safest apples in the world,” he said in an interview.

Scientists, environmentalists and just about every organization representing apple growers, in the U.S. and Canada, say otherwise. They predict that the GMO apple will likely contaminate conventional apple crops, in addition to introducing a whole new set of health concerns.

No health risk?

The Arctic Apple doesn’t require FDA approval, though the company says it is “voluntarily consulting with that agency to demonstrate that Arctic apples are as allergen-free and toxin-free as are all other apples.”

Right. We all know how often the FDA rejects genetically engineered food and crops.

But scientists have already sounded the alarm on health concerns, citing the relatively new and so-far untested dsRNA technology used to silence the gene that causes the apple to brown.

Professor Jack Heinemann (University of Canterbury, New Zealand), Sarah Agapito-Tenfen (from Santa Catarina University in Brazil) and Judy Carman (Flinders University in South Australia), say that dsRNA manipulation is untested, and therefore inherently risky. They argue that the dsRNA from our food, and presumably the Frankenapple, will enter the bloodstream and cells of consumers. They recommend research be done on the safety of the GMO apple before it’s approved for human consumption.

The Arctic Apple provides no health benefit to consumers. No benefit to growers. It’s only “benefit” is that it won’t turn brown when you slice it or bite into it.

The USDA is set to approve the GMO apple before Christmas. Unless the agency heeds the tens of thousands of consumers, environmentalists and apple growers who are asking for more safety testing. Or at the least, a label?