This Week’s Headlines
Genetically engineered apple OK’d by USDA
By DOROTHY NOBLE
SUMMERLAND, British Columbia (March 17, 2015) — After five years of rigorous reviews, and field trials for more than a decade, consumers should be able to try the first genetically engineered apples next year.
In mid-February the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced that Arctic apples are not likely to pose a plant pest risk, and their deregulation is not likely to have a significant impact on the human environment.
Thus, Arctic apples are approved by USDA.
The Arctic apples, developed through biotechnology by Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. in Canada, is the world’s first non-browning apple.
The genetic engineering of Arctic apples does not introduce any novel proteins in Arctic fruits. The process simply reduces the expression of the polyphenol oxidase enzyme. This enzyme triggers the browning reaction when an apple is cut, bitten or bruised.
What’s more, the nutrition and composition of Arctic apples are equivalent to conventional apples.
Neal Carter, president and founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, commented, “The commercial approval of Arctic apples, our company’s flagship product, is the biggest milestone for us, and we can’t wait until they’re available for consumers.”
So far, Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny have been developed.
The company has about 22,000 Arctic trees that will be planted in 2015, and they are planning additional tree availability in 2016 and beyond.
The company will seek commercial approval next for Arctic Fuji and Arctic Gala.
Within weeks of the Arctic apple approval, Intrexon Corporation of Germantown, Md., and Okanagan Specialty Fruits agreed to Intrexon’s acquisition of the fruit company.
Okanagan’s stockholders will receive $31 million in Intrexon common stock and $10 million in upfront cash, pursuant to the definitive agreement.
The transaction is expected to be consummated in the first half of this year, and is subject to customary closing conditions. Okanagan’s Neal Carter will remain with the company.
Carter said, “Joining forces with Intrexon and applying our combined technical know-how is an important step to introducing beneficial products for consumers and growers.”
Intrexon Corporation, a leader in synthetic biology, focuses on collaborating with companies in the health, food, energy, environment and consumer sectors. In this effort, it creates biologically-based products to improve the quality of life.
Dr. Thomas R. Kasser, senior vice president and head of Intrexon’s Food Sector, said, “Through this acquisition, we can deliver more accessible and affordable choices of high-quality foods for an ever-growing population.”
Through its proprietary UltraVector platform, Intrexon provides industrial-scale design and development of complex biological systems. Their synthetic approach, termed Better DNA, is described on their site, www.dna.com.
Okanagan has carried out significant consumer research with focus groups, online surveys and shopping mall intercept studies. Taste tasting has been positive, the company said.
The results showed that the vast majority of consumers are interested in the non-browning Arctic apples, especially when experienced firsthand.
Although it will be a few more years before significant quantities are available, Okanagan reports that many organizations have expressed their interest in the apples.
The company points out, “We see Arctic apples as being particularly well suited for freshcut products, as they will not require the costly anti-browning treatments that can add up to 40 percent in processing costs and add an off-taste.”
Cathy Burns, president of the Produce Marketing Association, said, “This is an exciting technology that gives consumers new choices. While some may not embrace it, we’re fortunate to have a supply chain that serves up a variety of produce options that ultimately puts purchasing decisions in the hands of consumers.”
At the Appalachian Tree Fruit Meeting in early March, although many of the apple growers had already planned their orchards for the next few years, they were receptive to the possibilities of the Arctic apple.