Del Monte gets OK to import biotech pineapple
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
An international fruit company has won approval from the USDA to ship genetically engineered pineapple into the U.S.
The Del Monte Fresh Produce Co., based in the Cayman Islands, has developed a transgenic pineapple that has tissue of a "novel rose color."
The company has altered the fruit to "overexpress" a gene derived from the tangerine and to suppress other genes, increasing accumulation of lycopene, a natural chemical, according to its submission to the USDA.
The plant's flowering cycle has also been changed to provide for more uniform growth and quality.
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has found that the "Rosé" cultivar is a regulated transgenic crop but Del Monte does not require a biotechnology permit to export the crop to the U.S.
The transgenic fruit "does not have the ability to propagate and persist in the environment once they have been harvested," according to USDA APHIS.
According to Del Monte's submission, pineapples are commercially grown in a "monoculture" that prevents seed production, as the plant's flowers aren't exposed to compatible pollen sources.
Even if a seed did form, it would be unlikely to germinate and grow without human intervention, the company said. Temperatures in most of the U.S. are not hospitable to pineapples, and importation into Hawaii is already banned for plant sanitation reasons.
Del Monte's submission notes that the company is still seeking approvals from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which also regulates transgenic food, and the government of Costa Rica, where the crop is grown.
When Del Monte received permission to expand test plots of the crop in Costa Rica in 2011, the decision alarmed some environmentalists in the country.
Activists claim the pineapple could pose unknown risks to the environment, particularly since conventional production of the crop is already causing problems with erosion and deforestation.
Roughly half of all produce sold by Del Monte is grown on company-controlled farms, with Costa Rica serving as its "most significant sourcing location," according to a company's financial report for 2012.
The country represents more than one-third of Del Monte's total fresh produce sales, which topped $1.5 billion in 2012, according to the report.