SUMMERLAND, B.C. — Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., developer of genetically modified non-browning apples, on April 26 received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to sell its new Arctic Fuji variety in the U.S.

The FDA previously approved Arctic varieties of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples in 2015.

The first 40,000 to 50,000 pounds of fresh-sliced, snack-pack Arctic apples were sold in the Midwest and Southeast in November of 2017.

“Completion of FDA review is important news for our company as it marks the last step needed for Arctic Fuji to officially join our commercial orchards,” said Neal Carter, OSF founder and president.

Another 120,000 to 130,000 pounds of the 2017 crop were sold as french fry-style sliced and dried Arctic ApBitz on Amazon.com for $19.99 per 12 snack-size bags.

“People love it. ApBitz is a home run. It’s the No. 1 dried fruit selling on Amazon,” Carter said.

ApBitz was developed to avoid wasting apples that were not suitable size for fresh slicing, he has said.

A Gala variety has yet to gain USDA approval for growing and FDA approval for selling. The other varieties received USDA approval first, then FDA approval.

The apples are genetically modified to prevent browning when sliced, bitten or bruised. It was done by “silencing” a gene and reducing the enzyme polyphenol oxidase. It allows OSF to tout its fresh and dried sliced apples as preservative free. Other manufacturers of fresh and dried sliced apples use chemical additives to prevent browning, but they can alter flavor.

The Arctic brand is synonymous with genetic modification and packaging now includes information on the biotechnology. 

“We don’t see much pushback. So far, not one person has called. Genetic modification is a big issue for some and not for others,” Carter said.

OSF sold 1.7 million pounds of fresh-sliced apples and dried ApBitz from the 2018 crop, Carter said.

“That’s still fairly small volume, but we expect it to increase five-fold in this fall’s crop,” he said, adding that this year’s production will be about 8.5 million pounds.

In 2018 ApBitz were sold in 0.75-ounce packages on Amazon and in retail stores from California to the Northeast, he said. This year they will be sold in 1 and 3-ounce packages and with Granny as well as Golden apples.

The fresh-sliced apples were sold in approximately 400 retail stores across the country. “The sliced product is selling as a premium product and doing well. Marketing strategy and adding stores is an ongoing activity,” Carter said.

The fruit is grown on 1,235 acres at undisclosed locations in Washington. More trees will be planted the next two springs, he said. Storage, processing, packing and shipping all take place at a custom food manufacturer in the state. OSF continues to consider building its own facility.

Central Washington field reporter

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