Arctic Apples are a brand of apples developed by a British Columbia growers cooperative that do not quickly turn brown the way conventional apples do. The small group of workers (they have 7 employees) developed a way to “turn off” the gene that causes apple browning. Nothing is added: it is still a perfectly normal, tasty apple. It will just look and taste better longer.
Apples turn brown because of enzymes called polyphenol oxidases, and these are not produced in Artic Apples because the genes producing them are turned off. You don’t have to worry about eating a “spoiled” apple that isn’t browning. Decay still occurs naturally over time. But the advantage of these apples is that you can slice them in advance to pack in lunches or serve in salad bars.
Oh, and there is no secret here: these will be labeled as genetically modified because it is part of their brand. The company (Okanagan Specialty Fruits) has engineered versions of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. They then plan to offer Fuji and Gala a bit later.
You may not know this, but every apple produces seeds that create a new apple variety. The only way to create a copy of a successful, tasty apple is to clone it from cuttings and graft it to rootstock. This is the way all apple growers work, and this is what Okanagan has done, to create these non-browning varieties.
Needless to say, some alarmists oppose any improvements, and one have even dubbed them a “Botox Apple” because its benefits are mainly cosmetic. (But the taste is improved, too, since they aren’t browning.)
One potential point of opposition has been that apples could cross-pollinate and create new varieties with this gene turned off (although it is not clear why this is a problem.) However, since this new variety would only be created in the fruit’s seeds, which are never planted, this is simply not true.
The other objection is that a marker gene used to make sure that the gene is turned off imposes kanamycin resistance in the plant. This is true, but only in the leaves, not the fruit and as explained in the detailed biology page at OSF, highly sensitive tests do not detect any trace of this marker gene in the fruit.
Tell the USDA to Approve Arctic Apples
The public comment period at the USDA closes Monday December 15. You can submit comments to the USDA site by clicking here. Arctic Apples have been under development for 17 years and have been tested for more than 10 years. They provide a great advantage to consumers and have been shown to pose no harm to any animal or crop.
If you want to read more about Arctic Apples, you might find Steve Savage’s Applied Mythology column interesting. We derived some of what we wrote above from that column..