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The first GMO non-browning apples will go on sale in the US next month

Arctic Apples
Source: Arctic Apples
Arctic Apples

The first genetically-modified apples will go on sale in the US next month, according to agricultural site Capital Press. The fruit, produced by Okanagan Specialty Fruits and sold under the brand name Arctic Apples, were approved by the USDA in 2015 with a first harvest collected last fall.

The apples have been modified to brown less quickly than ordinary fruit, and will be sold pre-sliced in 'grab-and-go' pouches.

The apples have been altered by shutting down the genes responsible for producing an enzyme known as 'polyphenol oxidase' or PPO. When an apple is sliced or bruised, PPO reacts with chemicals in the fruit (polyphenolics), producing the browning effect we're used to seeing.

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The enzyme is found in a number of plants, and is an evolutionary defense mechanism used to deter herbivorous insects. In apples, though, it's only produced in small amounts.

By suppressing the production of PPO, Arctic Apples age and brown at a slower rate — taking three weeks to fully oxidize. Okanagan Specialty Fruits says this means that their pre-sliced apples can be sold cheaper than non-GMO varieties, as 35 percent of the cost of pre-sliced fruit comes from applying a flavor-altering, antioxidant treatment.

Only 500, 40-pound boxes of the fruit will be sent to 10 unnamed retailers in the Midwest, says Okanagan. The fruit will not be explicitly identified as genetically-modified, although this information can be found if the customer scans a QR computer code on the packaging.

"We are selling it under the Arctic brand and we've had a lot of press and attention, so I assume most people will know what it," Okanagan's founder and president Neal Carter told Capital Press. A number of apple types will be sold under Arctic Apples brand in future, including Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and Fuji.

Distribution is currently limited by production, with Okanagan currently managing some 85,000 trees planted in Washington state. The company plans to increase that to more than 300,000 this spring though, with half a million trees being budded for planting in 2018.

The fall crop in 2017 is expected to produce 6,000 more boxes of the fruit for the Midwest region. "We're very optimistic with respect to this product because people love it at trade shows," said Cater. "It's a great product and the eating quality is excellent."