Neal Carter, the founder and president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, wants to create nearly perfect apples that won’t brown for weeks, even when bruised or sliced open. The U.S. government could approved his “Arctic Apple” for consumption as soon as early 2014.
Carter told me in a 2012 interview that he envisions his genetically modified apples as a transformative force in the food industry, which knows that browning apples are a turn-off for consumers. “Other than McDonald’s buying apples to make their dippers, apples are hardly at all going to food service. We want to increase that,” he said at the time. But will the food service industry–and packaged food providers in general–actually go for a genetically modified apple?
In early November, the anti-GMO environmental group Friends of the Earth claimed that both McDonald’s and Gerber aren’t interested in the Arctic Apple. Their contention was based on emails from the companies. In one, a McDonald’s representative writes that the company has no “current plans to source the Arctic Apple variety.” In the other, Gerber explains its GMO-free ingredient policy and writes that it doesn’t plan to source Arctic Apples in the future.
The Gerber stance is straightforward: The company doesn’t use GMO ingredients in its fruit and vegetable purees, period. But McDonald’s has no such policy for its products, and there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t consider the Arctic Apple in the future if consumer sentiment pointed to its acceptance. In an email, Carter explained his consumer research that indicates people will, in fact, accept the apple: “After learning how we created Arctic apples, consumers are likely or extremely likely to purchase Arctic apples by a margin of three to one.” McDonald’s did not respond to my request for comment.
While there is still widespread skepticism about the health and environmental safety of genetically modified foods, two recent bills proposing to label GMO ingredients in packaged foods–one in California, one in Washington–failed. In both cases, however, the pro-GMO lobby spent considerably more cash on their campaigns. And Whole Foods recently announced a plan to require GMO ingredient labeling on all foods sold in its stores by 2018. Chipotle also just became the first chain restaurant to implement GMO labeling in its shops.
But whether it is labeled or not, the Arctic Apple will surely find its buyers eventually. And many food service providers aren’t particularly open about their ingredients with consumers anyway, and there is no reason to believe that would change with GMO ingredients (unless forced by law). In any case, it will take many years before there are enough Arctic Apples to supply the food service industry. “We are currently seeking additional grower partners for Arctic apple trees to get trees in the ground and produce significant quantities of fruit needed for any major retailers or restaurants,” Carter writes.