True Cellular Formulas Team - September 21, 2023
The Apeel Debate
Is it Truly a Green Solution?
In recent years, the sustainability and organic movements have transformed our perspectives on produce consumption. A fresh entrant, Apeel Sciences, promises a breakthrough with its innovative produce coating solution, potentially rewriting the rules of food preservation and transportation. While the allure of longer-lasting freshness could revolutionize our shelves and potentially reduce food waste, it also brings to light numerous questions. How does it work? Is it truly green? What implications could it hold for the organic food landscape?
Understanding Apeel's Technology:
Apeel Sciences, a California-based company, has been in the spotlight for its unique approach to prolonging the life of fruits and vegetables. Going beyond traditional preservatives or refrigeration, Apeel focuses on the very skin of the produce. By developing an edible film coating barrier, the company claims to slow down visual spoilage by preventing moisture loss.
The technology seems simple enough at a glance: take leftovers of what nature provides – seeds, peels, pulp, and stems of fruits and vegetables. From these plant-derived materials, Apeel extracts lipids and glycerolipids, compounds that are then processed to create the Apeel barriers. In essence, it's a protective shield crafted from nature itself.[1-3]
However, as with any new technology, the specifics matter. While it’s pitched as a natural solution, how these barriers are produced, the quality of the materials used, and the potential additives or processes involved are key to truly understanding its green credentials.
The Promise and the Products
Delving deeper into Apeel's offerings, two distinct products emerge: Invisipeel and Edipeel.[1-3] Both cater to different phases in the life of produce, marking innovative interventions in their preservation.
Invisipeel is designed to be applied while the crops are still in the field, offering an early layer of protection. This proactive approach not only aids in preservation but also serves as a barrier against pests, potentially reducing the need for chemical pesticides.
On the other hand, Edipeel comes into play post-harvest. Growers can wait for the crops to ripen naturally and then apply Edipeel by either spraying or dipping the produce into the Apeel solution. This coating solidifies, forming a protective barrier around the fruit or vegetable, enhancing its shelf life.
What's more, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already given Edipeel its nod of approval, deeming it "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS). This classification can be a confidence booster for many. After all, an FDA endorsement often carries weight. However, it’s worth noting that while the FDA approval is a positive sign, the classification does not dig deep into long-term effects or environmental implications.
Furthermore, these products don’t just offer extended freshness. They’re being marketed as multifaceted solutions – as preserving agents, pesticides, and even fungicides. The broader the application, the larger the implications, and the greater the need for scrutiny.
Raising Eyebrows: Many Unanswered Questions
Apeel’s technology, while promising, doesn’t come without its share of concerns. As with any innovative solution that impacts our food supply, critical questions arise.
To begin with, the extraction process remains somewhat shrouded in mystery. While the company speaks of extracting lipids and glycerolipids from plant-derived materials, the specifics of which chemicals aid in this extraction are not abundantly clear. The origin and quality of these plant materials further raise eyebrows. What exactly constitutes the 'leftover' or 'already-processed' materials, and how are they sourced?
Additionally, while the emphasis on using organic materials is commendable, the term “primarily” derived from organic sources lacks clarity. With organic labeling standards allowing a product to be classified as "made with organic ingredients" even if it contains just 70 percent organically produced ingredients, where does Apeel truly stand?.
Moreover, as the Apeel barrier halts the visual decay of produce, a significant concern emerges for consumers. With the natural aging process obscured, gauging the true freshness and nutrient density of a piece of fruit or vegetable becomes a challenge. What was once a visual assessment now becomes a guessing game, potentially impacting nutritional choices.
Economic Implications and Global Dynamics
The introduction of Apeel’s products doesn’t just concern individual consumers or growers; it can have wide-ranging economic and international effects. The global food market is a delicate interplay of local economies, export-import dynamics, regulations, and consumer demand.
One of the selling points of Apeel is its potential to make produce transportable over longer distances without the need for refrigeration. This capability, on the surface, seems to open doors for growers in remote regions to access markets previously beyond their reach. However, it also means that local growers might face stiff competition from international players, as Apeel-coated produce can be shipped from farther away and still retain a fresh appearance.
Consider the scenario of apples. If Apeel-coated apples from China flood the U.S. market, local apple growers might find it challenging to compete on price, given the economies of scale and potentially lower production costs in other countries. The result? Local farmers risk going out of business, and consumers might end up with produce that has traveled thousands of miles, possibly reducing its nutritional quality.
Moreover, the regulatory landscape adds another layer of complexity. With international food standards and varying regulations across countries, how will Apeel-coated produce fit in? Will there be transparency about the origins of such produce? And importantly, will there be clarity on how these coatings align with different nations' organic standards?
Ethical Considerations and The Organic Dilemma
The organic food movement has always been rooted in principles of sustainability, health, and a close connection to the land. It values local, fresh produce, and a minimal use of synthetic or chemical interventions. Apeel, while rooted in plant-derived materials, challenges some of these core principles.
The ethical debate centers around the true essence of organic. If a fruit, for instance, is grown organically but then coated with a substance that potentially hinders the natural decaying process and masks its true age, can it still genuinely be termed 'organic'?
Furthermore, the prospect of consuming produce that has been on a slow boat journey for weeks, only to sit on retail shelves for even longer, runs counter to the organic ethos of 'freshness'. The extended lifespan, though potentially reducing food waste, might compromise nutritional value.
A critical concern is the detachment from local produce. The organic movement has always emphasized the importance of local economies, reduced carbon footprints from transportation, and the benefits of consuming in-season produce. Apeel’s solutions might inadvertently push consumers further away from these foundational values.
Consumer Perception and Trust
It's undeniable that perception shapes our choices, especially when it comes to the food we consume. Apeel's innovative technology, while fascinating, presents a unique conundrum for the discerning consumer. The capability to preserve produce for extended periods disrupts the traditional indicators we've relied on to judge freshness.
The natural aging process of fruits and vegetables offers more than just visual cues. It's a testament to the passage of time, providing consumers an innate sense of trust. With Apeel's invisible barrier, this tangible connection is obscured, possibly leaving consumers second-guessing their purchases.
Questions arise: Is this apple truly fresh? How long has it been since it was harvested? Has it traveled halfway across the world? With Apeel's coating, these answers become elusive. This cloud of uncertainty might erode consumer trust, making them wary of the very solution designed to reduce food waste and extend freshness.
The Bigger Picture: Environmental Impact and Sustainability
Beyond immediate consumer concerns lies a broader, pivotal question: What does Apeel's solution mean for our planet? On one hand, reducing food waste is an admirable goal. Globally, billions of pounds of fruits and vegetables are discarded due to spoilage, having profound environmental and economic ramifications.
If Apeel can indeed drastically reduce this wastage, it's a significant step toward sustainability. Reduced food waste translates to lesser greenhouse gas emissions from decaying produce, fewer resources spent on producing food that never gets consumed, and a potential reduction in the use of chemical preservatives.
However, this advantage needs to be weighed against potential environmental downsides. The increased transport of produce around the world, thanks to its extended shelf life, means a greater carbon footprint. Then there's the question of Apeel's production process: How much energy and resources are utilized? Are there waste by-products? What is the environmental cost of sourcing the 'leftover' plant materials?
In the quest for innovation and sustainability, it's crucial to adopt a holistic approach, ensuring that solutions like Apeel don't inadvertently introduce new environmental challenges.
A Return to Our Roots: The Value of Local and Traditional Produce
The advent of technologies like Apeel reinforces the significance of understanding and valuing our traditional food systems. For generations, communities have thrived on local produce, embracing the rhythms of nature, and consuming what's available seasonally.
Local produce, inherently fresh and minimally transported, carries with it a richness of flavor and nutrient density that's hard to replicate. It supports local economies, strengthens community bonds, and reduces the carbon footprint associated with long-haul transport. Beyond mere consumption, it's a way of life, reflecting a deep respect for the land and its bounty.
In the face of emerging technologies, it's essential to pause and reflect on what we might be sacrificing. The allure of extended shelf life and global accessibility might be tempting, but at what cost? Do we risk severing our connection to the land, the very source of our sustenance?
Conclusion: The Choice is Ours
The introduction of Apeel into the marketplace underscores the ever-evolving nature of our food systems. While innovation is crucial to address global challenges like food waste, it's equally important to approach such advancements with a critical lens.
As consumers, the power to shape the future of our food lies in our hands. Every purchase is a vote, an endorsement of a particular practice or product. It's our responsibility to stay informed, ask questions, and prioritize not just convenience, but health, community, and sustainability.
Is Apeel truly appealing? The answer isn't straightforward. But what's clear is the need for continuous dialogue, research, and a collective commitment to ensuring that our food remains a source of nourishment, in every sense of the word.
- Garfield L. Spray this invisible, edible coating on produce and it will last five times longer. Business Insider, Jan. 16, 2017.
- Dewey C. This start-up can make avocados last twice as long before going bad. Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2018.
- Strom S. An (edible) solution to extend produce’s shelf life. The New York Times, Dec. 13, 2016.
- Gras notice 886, mixture of monoacylglycerides derived from grape seed. (n.d.). https://www.fda.gov/media/135999/download
- “Organic labeling standards.” https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/organic-labelingstandards.
- “The Global Food System: Trends, Impacts, and Solutions.” Metabolic, www.metabolic.nl/publication/global-food-system-an-analysis/.