Future of fruit

So, let’s take a break from Trump for a post and talk about one of my other favorite topics– fruit (and GMO’s).  A recent Wonkblog post on GMO apples (yum) reminded me of this excellent NYT story on the future of fruit from back in December.  In a very cool technological development, scientists have invented new ways to dramatically improve the shelf-life of fruit with a natural treatment:

What if a Florida tomato could be left on the vine long enough to turn red and fully develop its flavor — and still be ripe and juicy when it arrived at a grocery store in New York days later?

That is precisely the promise of a start-up here in Southern California, Apeel Sciences, that aims to make obsolete the gas, wax and other tricks growers use to keep fruits and vegetables fresh over time.

Using leaves, stems, banana peels and other fresh plant materials left behind after fruits and vegetables are picked or processed, Apeel has developed a method for creating imperceptible, edible barriers that the company says can extend the life of produce like green beans and berries by as much as five times. Apeel can even deliver a day-of-the-week bunch of bananas, each ripening on a different day.

An Apeel product already has been used to stretch the shelf life of cassava in Africa.

“It takes 30 days to get blueberries grown in Chile to market in the United States, which means they have to be picked before they’re ripe and shipped under heavy refrigeration,” said James Rogers, the founder and chief executive of Apeel. “We can change that.”

Awesome!!!  And, here’s where I mention, I’m loving the bumper crop of Chilean blueberries.  Fresh blueberries for $3/pint in January (hooray, Southern hemisphere) means I’m back on fresh blueberries instead of frozen for now.  But, in general, this is really, really cool.

If the product performs as advertised, it could bring sweeping changes to the produce industry and grocery aisles. It could reduce food waste and the use of pesticides and increase the varieties of fruits and vegetables available…

Another effort to alter that trade-off is SmartFresh, a product developed with Professor Watkins’s research that keeps apples from ripening too quickly in storage.

Apeel’s products, sold under the brand names Edipeel and Invisipeel, take plant materials and extract all liquids from them to produce tiny pellets. The company then uses molecules from those pellets to control the rate of water and gases that go in and out of produce, thus slowing down the rate of decay.

The version of Apeel for avocados, for example, creates a barrier that effectively fools anthracnose, a fungus that exploits tiny cracks that develop in the fruit’s skin when it begins to shrivel. Anthracnose extends a little leg through those cracks and into the fruit itself, creating the ugly brown spots that are such a nasty surprise when an avocado is opened.

Edipeel can stave off anthracnose by up to 30 days longer than existing techniques for combating the fungus. “It basically sees a different molecule than it’s used to seeing and moves on,” Mr. Rogers said.

Invisipeel can be applied while crops are still in the field. Edipeel can be applied after a harvest; crops can be coated while on a conveyor belt or dipped in the solution.

So far, the products are derived primarily from the remains of produce that has been certified organic, like grape skins left over from wine production and stems left behind after broccoli is harvested. They can be easily washed away with water.

And, maybe, I’ll get decent-tasting apples in January through March until the Chilean and New Zealand apples finally show up in April.

And, speaking of apples, solid Wonkblog piece on the new never-browning GMO apple.  Importantly, I think, the only modified genes in here are apple genes (and the science behind this is pretty cool).  I always eat a whole apple at a time, so brown slices are simply not an issue for me.  But if this gets more kids to eat apples via slices, that’s great.  And if it gets more people to accept GMO food as no less healthy, even better.  The company behind this is optimistic.  That said, I’m pessimisstic as I think there’s just too much irrational fear of GMO food.  This may be the food that breaks through (then again, maybe if everybody knew there were already eating a ton of GMO soy and corn every day), but maybe not:

After years of development, protest and regulatory red tape, the first genetically modified, non-browning apples will soon go on sale in the United States.

The fruit, sold sliced and marketed under the brand Arctic Apple, could hit a cluster of Midwestern grocery stores as early as Feb. 1. The limited release is an early test run for the controversial apple, which has been genetically modified to eliminate the browning that occurs when an apple is left out in the open air.

Critics and advocates of genetic engineering say that the apple could be a turning point in the nation’s highly polarizing debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs). While genetic modifications have in the past been mainly defended as a way to protect crops, the Arctic Apple would be one of the first GMOs marketed directly to consumers as more convenient.

“What companies are desperate for is some really popular GMO product to hit the market,” said McKay Jenkins, the author of a forthcoming history of the debate. “Any successful product could lift the cloud over GMOs.”

Industry executives predict the apple could open a whole new trade in genetically engineered produce, potentially opening the market to pink pineapples, antioxidant-enriched tomatoes, and other food currently in development.

“We see this as less about genetic modification and more about convenience,” said Neal Carter, founder of the company that makes the Arctic Apple. “I think consumers are very ready for apples that don’t go brown. Everyone can identify with that ‘yuck’ factor.”

GMO critics say they are hopeful, however, that consumers will continue to show skepticism about the produce. Despite a growing consensus in scientific circles that GMOs pose little risk, environmental and consumer groups have successfuly mounted campaigns against GMOs over the past 30 years, successfully limiting the practice to commodity crops like soybeans and corn…

For the Arctic Apple, however, the greatest test is yet to come: whether the convenience of a non-browning apple is enough to convince consumers to look past GMO’s negative reputation.

“I don’t know what their chances are — it’s a very polarized debate,” said Michael White, an assistant professor of genetics at the Washington University School of Medicine. “But I think this is huge. What the Arctic Apple is doing, trying to push GMOs on their own merits, could lead to a more positive discussion.”

Despite widespread scientific consensus that genetic engineering is not dangerous to human health, the practice remains controversial and poorly understood. Both the World Health Organization and the National Academies of Science have concluded that there’s no health reasons for avoiding the current slate of genetically engineered foods.

Personally, I’ll buy them just to support the effort (and to try and get my son Evan to eat more fruit). Anyway, no matter what, the future of fruit looks to be different and better.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Future of fruit

  1. itchy says:

    Well said.

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