Update: As of 1 p.m. CDT Friday Apple has re-joined the EPEAT registry, saying it made a mistake in removing its products in late June. News of Apple’s withdrawal from the green certification program drew extensive news coverage this past week, most of it negative. For more information on Apple’s return to the green program, see Apple’s apology to its consumers and the EPEAT website. For background on the issue, and for news about another apple development, please see below.


By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

This week brought news of two apples with the power to spoil the bunch.

The first “bad apple,” Apple, withdrew nearly 40 of its computers from the EPEAT, an organization that certifies electronics for energy efficiency and recyclability.

Apple issued no statement explaining its reasoning; but the withdrawal appears to have been hastened by the company’s decision to make new MacBooks that are more difficult to disassemble, rendering them less recyclable, a move that EPEAT would not endorse.

Design has always ruled at Apple, and by the end of the week, the story seemed to be that the company was simply not willing to submit to the extensive certification process and weary of having to make its products suitable for later reclamation. The loss of some customers, such as the city of San Francisco, who buy only EPEAT certified computers, was not a big enough incentive to keep sustainability on the main track at Apple. (See PC World for the latest.)

Time will tell how much this decision hurts the company’s sales, but it is fairly certain it will increase the toxic waste produced by spent Apple electronics, one small step backward for the planet. Let’s hope this doesn’t open the door to other companies shirking EPEAT’s call to responsibility.

The other potentially bad apple to emerge in the news this week is still being assessed. The verdict’s out on whether this one represents a dangerous turn in fruit production or a food improvement that we can all relish.

We’re talking about the ‘Arctic Apple’ — a genetically modified fruit that would not brown as fast as other apples because it’s been engineered to produce less of the chemical that causing the browning. This is accomplished by “silencing” the genes for browning by inserting genetic material from other apples, according to the company that created this funny fruit, Okanagan Specialty Foods or OSF. (Get more details about this bio-engineering feat at their website.)

Apples, could they be better? (Photo: GRN)

OSF says this is not a Franken-Apple, but something more akin to a seedless watermelon, and maintains that this improvement would encourage apple consumption because people don’t (or can’t) eat whole apples (they haven’t met my sons).  Therefore it’s important that apple slices remain appetizing for as long as possible. Arctic Apples, they insist, are apples without the “yuck” factor or the “muss and fuss.”

From the OSF company website: “Seriously, apples are one of the greatest foods on the planet – and now they are getting even better. Arctic Apples are an exciting new way to enjoy more apples, with less muss and fuss.”

‘Course you could use lemon juice, the standard household method for retarding browning in apples and other fruits.

One objection to these newly engineered (the term fits because their process employs genetic altering) apples, is the fear that by reducing the natural process of browning the Arctic Apple will not properly telegraph when it’s actually going bad.

OSF answers that question on its blog:  “By preventing enzymatic browning, Arctic Apples stop the flesh of the apple from going brown due to superficial damage, but this is quite separate from tissue breakdown from rotting. The decomposition that renders an apple unsightly and inedible primarily occurs due to fungi and bacteria, and this secondary browning or decomposition will happen with Arctic Apples, too.”

So yes! Arctic Apples rot. But that won’t be the last question raised about them. There are many concerns about GE foods that loom large over this development, which heralds the entry of produce into the GE/GM arena. Until now, most GM foods have been row crops, corn, soybeans and similar commodities. Fruits and vegetables were a refuge from biotech. People eating the organic versions of grains, and plenty of greens, oranges and other fruits and vegetables could rest at ease that their diet was largely non-GMO.

That’s become important to many consumers because we really don’t know what health effects these bio-engineered foods might produce years down the line. That’s why many watchdog groups oppose approval for GMOs, arguing that what we don’t know could hurt us.

“Genetically engineered foods are unlabeled, untested and potentially unsafe. As with any genetically modified food, it would be a mistake for the FDA to approve this product before long-term safety studies independent of biotech industry influence have been conducted,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

OSF’s application for federal approval to be regulated and sell their trademarked apple is pending with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). It was published in the Federal Register for review today. The public will have 60 days to comment.

If you have a forboding, or a particularly happy feeling, about the Arctic Apple you can post your comment to the APHIS online here.

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