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Genetically engineered Okanagan apples are safe: CFIA and Health Canada

A worker at a Franklin County orchard in Washington State moves bins of freshly picked golden delicious apples, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 into place for a semi-truck to pick them up for delivery.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Tri-City Herald, Bob Brawdy
March 21, 2015 - 9:33 AM

BOISE, Idaho - The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada have approved non-browning Arctic Apples for commercial sale in Canada.

In a letter sent to Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. on Friday, the CFIA said Arctic Apples "are as safe and nutritious as traditional apple varieties."

Health Canada said they have concluded the Arctic Apple "is safe for consumption, still has all its nutritional value and therefore does not differ from other apples available on the market."

The approvals come after three years of review by Canadian authorities and follow U.S. deregulation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last month. On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. also approved the genetically engineered apples along with six varieties of potatoes that won't bruise by Boise, Idaho-based J. R. Simplot Co.

"We are pleased that the FDA has completed their consultative review of our first two Arctic Apple varieties, and their conclusion that they are as safe and nutritious as their conventional counterparts is gratifying and should give consumers full confidence in the healthfulness of Arctic Apples," Neal Carter, founder of the Summerland, B.C., company, said Friday in a release.

Okanagan is trying to make apples a more convenient snack with its non-browning version. The company says bagged apples wouldn't have to be washed in antioxidants as they are now, a process that can affect taste. Carter says they want to see bagged apples become as prolific as bagged baby carrots.

"We know that in a convenience-driven world, a whole apple is too big of a commitment," Carter said.

The first two varieties of Arctic Apples to get the non-browning treatment will be Granny Smith and Golden Delicious, and Carter says there won't be significant plantings until 2017.

A genetically modified arctic granny apple, right, doesn't brown like a conventional granny apple, left. The United States on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, approved the commercial planting of genetically engineered apples that are resistant to turning brown when sliced or bruised.
A genetically modified arctic granny apple, right, doesn't brown like a conventional granny apple, left. The United States on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, approved the commercial planting of genetically engineered apples that are resistant to turning brown when sliced or bruised.
Image Credit: Okanagan Specialty Fruits

Simplot calls its potatoes Innate and the varieties selected include Ranger Russet, Russet Burbank and Atlantic.

"We're trying to improve potatoes so everyone gets a better experience, just like it's right out of the field," said Haven Baker, vice-president of plant sciences for Simplot.

It could be years before the average customer is able to buy one of the potatoes. The company plans to deliver Innate potatoes it has in storage from the 2014 harvest to growers, packers and shippers for use in small-scale test markets.

The company said those markets haven't been determined, and it's not clear yet how the potatoes will be labelled. The company said it's not selling Innate seed potatoes on the open market.

The potatoes have 40 per cent less bruising from impacts and pressure during harvest and storage then conventional potatoes, which the company said could reduce the more than three billion pounds of potatoes discarded each year by consumers.

"I think everybody wants to get what they pay for," said Doug Cole, Simplot's director of marketing and communications.

The potatoes will have 70 per cent less acrylamide, a chemical that can be created when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures, the company says.

The company is touting that as a potential health benefit, as some studies have shown acrylamide to be a potential carcinogen, though the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health says scientists "do not yet know with any certainty" whether the substance can be harmful in food.

The FDA in its approval Friday noted that acrylamide has been found to be a carcinogenic in rodents.

This May 10, 2013 file photo shows genetically engineered potatoes growing in rows inside a J.R. Simplot greenhouse in southwestern Idaho. Potatoes that won't bruise and apples that won't brown are a step closer to grocery store aisles. The Food and Drug Administration on Friday, March 20, 2015, approved the genetically engineered foods as safe, saying they are as nutritious as their conventional counterparts. The approval covers six varieties of potatoes by Boise, Idaho-based J. R. Simplot Co. and two varieties of apples from the Canadian company Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc.
This May 10, 2013 file photo shows genetically engineered potatoes growing in rows inside a J.R. Simplot greenhouse in southwestern Idaho. Potatoes that won't bruise and apples that won't brown are a step closer to grocery store aisles. The Food and Drug Administration on Friday, March 20, 2015, approved the genetically engineered foods as safe, saying they are as nutritious as their conventional counterparts. The approval covers six varieties of potatoes by Boise, Idaho-based J. R. Simplot Co. and two varieties of apples from the Canadian company Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc.
Image Credit: AP Photo/John Miller, File

The FDA's review process is voluntary. Both companies asked for a review to ensure their products met safety standards. As part of the process, FDA compares safety and data of the genetically engineered food in comparison to a conventional variety.

Aware of potential resistance from consumers, Simplot officials say Innate potato traits come exclusively from genes from domestic potato varieties.

However, one of the company's oldest business partners — McDonald's — has previously said it has no plans to use genetically modified potatoes. The company didn't respond to inquiries from The Associated Press on Friday.

Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a statement Friday objected to the voluntary system for approving genetically engineered foods.

"There's no reason why these 'Arctic' apples and 'Innate' potatoes would pose any food safety or environmental risk," he wrote. "That said, the process for allowing such new crops is badly flawed. Congress should pass legislation that requires new biotech crops to undergo a rigorous and mandatory approval process before foods made from those crops reach the marketplace."

Simplot is working on a second generation Innate potato that will have additional traits, including resistance to late blight, which the company said will result in a 25 to 50 per cent reduction in the need for pesticides. Late blight helped cause the Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century.

— With files from The Canadian Press. Jalonick reported from Washington.

News from © The Associated Press, 2015
The Associated Press

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