A second, “final,” 30-day period has opened during which the public may comment on deregulation of Okanagan Specialty Fruits’ non-browning apples, Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny. The period ends December 9.

Arctic apples are genetically modified versions of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. When cut or bruised, they do not turn brown because the enzyme that causing browning has been turned off. The non-browning effect was achieved by inserting a gene suppressing polyphenol oxidase.

Geneticially modified plants are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Service (APHIS) until such time as they are deregulated—meaning they have been determined to have no adverse impact on the environment.

In its 83-page environmental assessment report posted on its Web site for comment, APHIS recommended deregulation, which would mean that Arctic apples could be grown, marketed, and used in breeding programs without any restriction beyond those applying to any other apples. There would be no requirements for further testing or isolation distances.

The documents and rules for submitting comments are posted online.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits of Summerland, British Columbia, petitioned APHIS for approval of its apples in June of 2010. Third-party field trials on 2003 plantings in Washington State and 2005 plantings in New York State were completed in February, 2012, after which APHIS published its environmental assessment and sought public comment during a period that ended September 11, 2012.

During that period, APHIS received 72,745 comments.

“The majority of the comments expressed a general dislike of the use of GE (genetically engineered) organisms or were form letters sent to all of the dockets which were open at the time that this docket was open,” APHIS said in its report.

The issues that were raised included:

—Potential economic impacts on the U.S. apple industry and market

—The socioeconomic impacts of mixing GE and non-GE apples in various apple markets

—Potential economic impacts on export markets

—Concern that cross-pollination between GE and organic or conventional apple crops will affect sales for growers of these crops.

—Concern about cross pollination with other apple varieties including native crabapples

—Effects of the apples on the physical environment

—Effects on biological organisms including Threatened and Endangered Species

—Potential for weakened plant defenses and increased susceptibility to disease or infection from PPO suppression

—Human health effects from consuming GE crops

—Concerns about the non-browning trait masking flaws or disease in the fruit

—Concerns about the nutritional, quality, and food safety of the apples.

APHIS evaluated these issues and the submitted documentation, it said, and included a discussion of these issues in its environmental assessment.

“Because the agency has concluded that (these) apples are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk, a determination of nonregulated status … is a response that is consistent with the plant pest provisions of the (rules and laws),” it said.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits President Neal Carter, in a statement, said he expects “full deregulation” of Arctic apples in the U.S. early in 2014, and that it is seeking commercial partners in producing and marketing the fruit.

“We’re now closer than ever to bringing consumers and producers safe, value-added Arctic apples, providing greater convenience and reducing food waste,” Carter said. “Ten years of real-world field trial experience has shown that Arctic trees and fruit are just like other apple varieties consumers have come to know and love, until the fruit is bruised, bitten, or cut.

“This is especially rewarding for our small company because of the long, challenging road toward deregulation,” he said. “We have had Arctic apples planted in field trials for over a decade now. The regulatory process is extremely rigorous so consumers can feel secure knowing that Arctic apples are among the most tested fruits in existence.”