The Food and Drug Administration said that genetically engineered nonbrowning apples and bruise-resistant potatoes were as safe and nutritious as their conventional counterparts.
The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that genetically engineered nonbrowning apples and bruise-resistant potatoes were as safe and nutritious as their conventional counterparts.
The apples and potatoes were recently approved for commercial planting by the Department of Agriculture, which looks mainly at whether the crops would pose a threat to other plants. The FDA review looks at food safety.
The so-called Arctic apples, developed by British Columbia-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits, resist turning brown when sliced or bruised, which could cut wastage of fruit and make sliced apples more appealing.
The Innate potatoes, developed by the Boise, Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co., resist bruising and also have been altered so that less of a potential cancer-causing chemical is produced when the potatoes are fried.
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The FDA rarely if ever issues news releases when it concludes a review of a genetically modified crop; it appears it did so this time because of the media and public attention to these two particular crops.
Consumer and environmental groups opposed to biotech crops have urged restaurants and food companies not to use the engineered apples and potatoes. Some apple growers, processors and exporters say they fear the approval of the biotech apple will taint the wholesome image of the fruit.
The FDA’s safety review is voluntary, though industry executives say virtually all developers of biotech crops go through it. Consumer and environmental groups opposed to genetically engineered crops have criticized the review as inadequate, saying they are cursory reviews of the companies’ data.
For instance, they point to the typical language in the letters the agency sends to companies at the end of the evaluation that seems to say the conclusion on safety is that of the company, not the agency. For instance, the letter to Okanagan says, “It is our understanding” that Okanagan “has concluded” that the apples are not materially different in safety and nutrition from other apples.
But the FDA said Friday its evaluations were thorough.
“The consultation process includes a review of information provided by a company about the nature of the molecular changes and the nutritional composition of the food compared to traditionally bred varieties,” Dennis Keefe, director of the agency’s office of food additive safety, said in a statement. “This case-by-case safety evaluation ensures that food-safety issues are resolved prior to commercial distribution.”
The FDA told both Okanagan and Simplot that certain differences between the genetically engineered apples and potatoes and conventional ones might be material enough to require disclosure to consumers. It urged the companies to consult further with the agency about voluntary or required labeling.
Such labeling would refer to the traits such as resistance to browning or the lower amounts of the suspected carcinogen in fried potatoes, an FDA spokeswoman said. It normally would not refer to the fact that the crops were genetically engineered, she said. However, the agency has received petitions on this matter and is considering them.