Is It Apeeling?
Written By Stacey Vila
Instead of local organic produce, imagine your organic fruits and vegetables traveling the World by slow boat and then still looking fresh for an extended time on the retail shelves? What could make it possible for fruit and vegetables to more than double their lifespan at retail or make them able to be transported for longer times over longer distances even without refrigeration?
Partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and based out of California, Apeel Sciences is a new and innovative company. It has developed an edible-film coating barrier that, when applied to the surface of fresh produce, stops moisture from leaving that produce, thereby slowing down visual spoilage.
The tasteless, odorless, and colorless edible coating – meant to be used on organic and conventional Crops – is procured from already-processed or leftover, after-harvest, and plant-derived materials such as peels, seeds, pulp, and stems. These can be made from any fruit or vegetable. The lipids and glycerolipids are then extracted and processed to create the Apeel barriers.
Different versions of Apeel can be applied to the crops at their various handling and processing points. Invisipeel, for example, can be applied to crops in the field while Edipeel, already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as “generally recognized as safe,” can be applied after harvest. The crops can wait until they are ripe before being harvested and then placed on conveyor belts sprayed or simply dipped into the Apeel solution, which then solidifies around the fruit or vegetables forming the barrier. The products can be used as a preserving agent as it keeps the outward appearance of freshness of the fruit and vegetable, or as a pesticide as it creates a physical barrier to pests, or even as a fungicide such as preventing the anthracnose fungus from shriveling up avocados.
Fresh from its successful trials in Africa on cassava roots (which decay rapidly after harvest), the small company is looking to expand within the food-producing market. Beginning with ship transport (in place of higher-priced aircraft transport) to move its Apeel-coated crops to market and then growing into local organic and conventional markets, Apeel Sciences is making certain that its Apeel label will appear on produce. In fact, as of the end of June 2018, Costco is selling Apeel Avocados.
The Inevitable Health Questions Arise Though
Questions about the health, nutritional density, farm costs, ease of application, workflow, and much more concerning the Apeel products have been posed. What chemicals are being used to get the lipids and glycerolipids from the leftover plant-derived materials? Where are the leftover, already-processed plant materials sourced from and of what quality? Which chemicals may have already been used on the ingredients that would then be used for the solutions on organic foods? What is the solidification process? Will the materials always be from the same sources and from only organic materials or will they change over time?
And one of the most important questions: Are all of the ingredients to be used on organic crops organic? The New York Times article in December 16, 2016, “An (Edible) Solution to Extend Produce’s Shelf Life,” states, “So far, the products are derived primarily from the remains of produce that has been certified organic…” But primarily does not mean all are organic. A box or container of food labeled as organic can have the organic mark if at least 75% of it contains organic ingredients. And the FDA giving approval may not mean that the ingredients will not be met with controversy.
An additional issue confronting Apeel technology is whether consumers in a traditional organic market would want the film coating on their produce? Does Apeel have a place in a traditional organic marketplace?
With the coating in use, consumers would not necessarily know where their foods were being sourced from. In stopping the visual decay of the fruits and vegetables they are dipped in, Apeel’s barrier coating could also prevent customers from knowing how fresh the produce truly is (i.e., how long ago the produce was harvested). And since the nutrient density of produce is based in large part upon how freshly picked the fruit or produce is, consumers could be subconsciously misled about the nutrient density of their purchases.
The long-understood traditional market way of getting the highest nutrient density of the foods one eats is to eat in-season, locally grown, biodynamic, organic fruits and vegetables. The consumer can inspect the produce for appearance as a way of gauging the freshness and nutrient density of the foods. The Apeel coating prevents seeing the decay that always occurs as soon as a fruit and vegetable is harvested and the nutritional breakdown occurs. The result is that the customer is not able to ascertain either the source or nutritional quality of the foods which may come from long distances.
Possible Economic and International Food Regulation Implications
Apeel Sciences is looking initially at imports with an eye towards the local organic and conventional markets. But, what are the implications when, for example, apples are coming in from China when we grow apples in the United States? The redistribution of food networks, the international control of food regulations may put our local farmers out of business while adding to money economies around the World making the consumer food quality lower and less nutritious. Is this an attempt to move us away from local organic foods?
Look at Codex Alimentarius standards and related international food regulations that control the world food markets. It sounds ridiculous until one sees that chickens are being shipped to China to be bleached before coming back to the U.S. marketplace for sale. Food is already coming from around the World via Codex Alimentarius (United Nations) food standards. Apeel may be the way of getting vegetables to be sourced from nations and long distances. How long before it becomes the guidelines for food everywhere allowing only certain nations to grow certain crops because Apeel can allow for long storage and travel times?
Is a second skin organic? Is the Apeel Appealing? Does it belong on traditional, organic, and biodynamic foods? Do we take the risk? Do our foods need to be traveling on boats for months at a time before sitting on shelves for extended time periods? What about the nutritional value of our foods? Do they matter? Will produce nutrition be enhanced or degraded? How are they to be affected by Apeel?
Eat Local, Organic, and Biodynamic
All of these are reasons to eat local, traditional, organic, biodynamic, and chemical-free foods. Ask questions about the foods you eat. Vote with your purchases, as they say.
We can feed the World by reducing and even eliminating food waste rather than by using toxic chemicals to grow monocrops on a massive and nutrient-depleted scale. That is very much to be desired; we just need to be sure that the food we put on the table is not worse than the foods that are being replaced.
All facts in this article were taken from the Apeel Sciences websites, including Apeel official links to The New York Times articles. Numerous attempts were made to contact Apeel Sciences. As of June 15, 2018, no return contacts from the company have been received by the author.