On February 13, 2015, the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service approved the Arctic apple, a genetically modified strain of apple developed to resist browning. A Canadian company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., first filed its petition for deregulation nearly three years ago. The technology works by “turning off” the production of a certain enzyme that is produced when an apple is cut or bruised. The Arctic apple is the one of the first deregulated genetically modified products designed to promote consumer-preferred traits, as opposed to traits like herbicide tolerance that promote certain production practices.
Notwithstanding APHIS’s approval, the question still remains of whether and how widely producers and consumers will adopt the technology in today’s environment surrounding GMOs. Because it will be at least five to seven years before Arctic apple trees can bear fruit that can be marketed, producers will be required to do some significant reading of the tea leaves to determine whether the product will be worth the risk and investment. The export market presents one such conundrum. For example, in 2013, Washington state (a state not particularly known for its embrace of GMO technology) exported 40 million bushels of apples to more than 50 countries. Putting aside the number of countries that ban GMOs, how many of the remaining countries will issue import approvals? We’ll certainly be watching the rollout of these products closely.