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Will the world get fruit that doesn’t turn brown?

JTSorrel/Getty Images bowl of red cherries
NON-BROWNING FRUIT? Apples that don’t turn brown when sliced are here now. The concept could be extended to cherries and other fruit. Will environmentalists allow it to happen?
Or will environmentalists apply enough pressure to squelch the technology?

My 8-year-old grandson and I picked cherries off two dwarf cherry trees one Sunday afternoon. The more he picked, the more excited he became. He’s a boy, so he was ready to climb to get the best cherries. But the trees are young, and the branches aren’t ready for climbing — maybe someday.

I offered to pit the cherries for my wife that evening, but she declined. She reminded me that once you pit cherries, they turn brown inside. Brown fruit isn’t very appealing.

Just the other day, I learned about technology that could someday produce cherries that I could pit as soon as I pick them. They wouldn’t turn brown even after I removed the pit.

Will these cherries ever be available to plant? As it turns out, that’s a good question. The technology is real, but non-browning cherries are somewhere between “proof of concept” and “discovery phase” in the Intrexon pipeline. Odds are, my grandson won’t still be into climbing trees by the time I could plant them.

Non-browning apples
Non-browning apples are a different story, however. Marketed under the brand Arctic, non-browning Arctic Golden apples are available, and Arctic Granny apples are listed on Intrexon’s website as being in the pilot phase. Arctic Fuji apples are in the same pipeline, along with non-browning pears, avocados and lettuce.

Here’s the rub. Biotechnology was used to develop these apples that won’t brown after being cut or bit into. Environmentalists have already jumped into the fray to protest GMO apples. If they have their way, my grandson won’t even see non-browning cherries by the time he’s my age.

Friends of the Earth recently issued a call to action for its followers. This time the target is Amazon. According to Friends of the Earth, public backlash already persuaded McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Gerber not to sell Intrexon’s non-browning apples. But Amazon has yet to yield to pressure.

Teachable moment
If your neighbor belongs to Friends of the Earth, it’s probably too late to convince him or her with common sense and sound science that there’s nothing wrong with these apples. If your neighbor has bought the Friends of the Earth line that these apples are unnecessary and only exist to increase Intrexon’s profits, you’re fighting a losing battle.

On the other hand, if your neighbor has an open mind, it’s a teachable moment. No one likes to eat brown fruit. Personally, I would pay extra for bananas that stopped ripening and never got brown and mushy inside, GMO or not. I would certainly plant cherry trees that produced fruit I could pit the same day. Why? Because since I didn’t pit the cherries my grandson and I picked, they’ll sit in the refrigerator, probably be forgotten and deteriorate. Blocking a safe technology that would prevent food loss is progress?

You must convince your reasonable neighbor that the technology is safe. Intrexon has all the necessary approvals for Arctic apples. The reason the fruit doesn’t brown is because the genes that produce the natural chemical responsible for the browning are turned off. There’s nothing unnatural added. This doesn’t even involve genes from a different organism.

Here’s the point: If we want access to technology ag businesses can develop, we need to go on the offensive with educational campaigns to tell mainstream Americans — those who will still listen — why these products are safe and preferable. Otherwise, your grandchildren and mine may not see non-browning fruit — and likely other technologies even more beneficial — in their lifetimes.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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