Friday, August 26, 2016

Another Biotech Apple That Can Help Change The Conversation About "GMO Crops"

A picture of the Arctic Granny that appeared in a great article in the trade magazine, Growing Produce last year.

Non-browning apples and potatoes are part of a second wave of biotech crop improvements which I believe will change the public conversation about "GMO crops" in a positive way.  A third Arctic Apple cultivar (Fuji) is currently going through the USDA deregulation step which will open the way for commercial production over the next few years.  Apparently the public comments to USDA have been overwhelmingly positive.  I decided to add my own comment because I've had the opportunity to meet the great folks at Okanagan Specialty Fruits who developed these apples, and the folks at Intrexon who are supporting the commercial phase.  I am very impressed with what they have accomplished and the plans they have for bringing these great products to consumers.

I've copied below the text of the comment I submitted to USDA today.  If you would like to comment you can do so at this link:

My Comment to USDA About The Arctic Fuji, Non-Browning Apple

"I am writing in full support of this particular deregulation of the Arctic Fuji apple.  I do this as an agricultural scientist, as a long-term observer of crop biotechnology (40 years), as a consumer, and as a grandfather.  USDA-APHIS is completely justified in concluding that this RNAi-based, non-browning trait represents no "plant pest issues" so that commercial planting can proceed.  The "genetic contamination" issue that is sometimes raised is meaningless for a crop like apples that is never grown from seed but which is vegetatively propagated and which is commonly pollinated with crab apple.  Pollen movement presents no problems for apple growers or for consumers.  As a plant pathologist I concur with the conclusion from field tests which indicate that the trait has no effect, positive or negative, on the pest resistance profile of apples.

What this trait does provide is a combination of food waste reduction and opportunities for desirable consumer options such as full flavor and aroma sliced apples, no-sulfite dried apples and, use in smoothies etc.  I've tasted examples of all these uses with previous cultivars and can highly recommend them to my fellow consumers.

I have had the opportunity to share a box of a previously deregulated cultivar, Golden Delicious, with friends at a pot luck dinner last November.  I offered slices that had been prepared 4 hours before the event and showed how they were still white and aromatic while the conventional slices were browned to the point that no one wanted to take more than one comparison taste.  The non-browning Arctic apples truly "changed the conversation about GMOs" because it was a concrete example of how biotechnology can provide a meaningful consumer trait.  As Fuji is my favorite apple variety I am particularly enthused about being able to buy and share this next cultivar when the production is ramped up.  As many children do, my grand daughter loves apples, and I see this product as a way to further encourage that healthy inclination.

I fully realize that some of our international trading partners have irrational and problematic attitudes about biotech crops, but with a fully "identity preserved" crop like apples, there should not be a risk to our export business.  I am confident in the plan that OSF and Intrexon have for stewarding the main sliced product line and the co-product lines.  I believe that a timely deregulation of this and subsequent cultivars will send the appropriate message to the global market for apples.

Finally, I believe that this trait demonstrates that even a small commercial entity can navigate both the technological and regulatory path to biotech product development.  The vast majority of the work even with this cultivar was done by a company with around 8 employees!  While our system would benefit by some stream-lining and greater emphasis on product over process, this remains an important precedent.

So again, I want to express my whole-hearted support for this deregulation decision.

Steve Savage, Ph.D."

My grand daughter holding a Fuji apple she picked in
my yard a couple of years ago (unfortunately the browning kind)
You are welcome to comment here and/or to email me at