Jan 8, 2014 by NATASHA LONGO
Since the genetic code of the apple was mapped by researchers a few years ago, scientists have explored gene silencing and other manipulation techniques to alter one of nature’s most healing superfoods. Genetically modified apples may soon enter the food supply under the guise of preventing browning. First, though, officials must confront some enduring public distaste for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) now widely perceived as one of the most extensive global threats to human health.
There are natural ways to keep an apple from browning such as applying lemon, lime and even pineapple juice as they have the citric acid necessary to prevent oxidation. Sea salting is another option as it effectively acts as a preservative.
But according to the Washington Agriculture Dept., GMO apples could replace all of these methods straight from the vineyard since gene sequences could be manipulated with the same end result.
An Economic Disaster And Abuse Towards Nature
“This is an economic disaster,” Henry House, an organic apple grower in Davis, Calif., recently warned.
More than 60 million tons of apples are grown worldwide each year – the equivalent of 20lb per person.
Organic growers such as House fear that honeybees will spread genetically engineered apple pollen and contaminate organic orchards. Some consumer advocates maintain a more general antipathy toward engineered foods, while industry groups that include the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima, Wash., also object to what would be the first genetically engineered apple in commercial production.
As of yet, no genetically modified apples have been approved anywhere in the world. It is expected, however, that the amount of GM apple field tests will keep increasing.
Washington state accounts for 44 percent of the nation’s apple-bearing land, with 146,000 acres.
The U.S. Apple Association, noting that “browning is a natural process related to the exposure to oxygen,” has voiced opposition to the Arctic apple.
Thousands of others have weighed in as the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service considers whether to grant “non-regulated status” to varieties called the Arctic Golden and the Arctic Granny. Approval would give the commercial green light to British Columbia’s Okanagan Specialty Fruits.
Processing of GMO Apples Well Underway
The information from gene regulations of the Golden Delicious variety of apples is already being used to breed red-fleshed apples which are supposedly more attractive to consumers. After all, we wouldn’t want consumers to think there are a few bad apples of any variety would we?
Ever imagine eating an apple with a desire to curb your appetite for the rest of the day? Well it’s becoming a reality as genetically modified apples that suppress appetite could also be in the pipeline, with the first varieties with enhanced appetite suppressing compounds on shelves within five years.
Farmers need not worry about slow growth of apple trees. Now breeders will be able to screen seedlings for key genes, vastly speeding up the process while destroying the Mother Nature’s diversity that perfectly tunes apple cultivation.
Researcher Roger Hellens of New Zealand firm Plant & Food Research, said: ‘Now we have the sequence of the apple genome, we will be able to identify the genes which control the characteristics that our sensory scientists have identified as most desired by consumers.
Amit Dhingra, of Washington State University in the US, said: ‘Before genome sequencing, the best we could do was correlate traits with genes.
‘Now we can point to a specific gene and say, “This is the one; this gene is responsible for this trait”. ‘Or the trait might be for something desirable, like flavour in a piece of fruit.’
Hellens said: ‘Understanding how important characteristics in plants are controlled is vital in reducing the time to breed successful commercial cultivars (varieties).
Company President of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Neal Carter stated that he “expects full deregulation” of the apples this year.
The Arctic apple’s resistance to what scientists call “enzymatic browning,” which is what happens when a typical apple is cut or bruised, comes from the insertion of a certain genetic sequence taken from an apple. The inserted sequence essentially suppresses the browning process.
With federal approval, the company no longer would need special permits before it put the genetically modified apples into production. If they get the go-ahead, company officials have indicated, the Arctic apples could reach grocery stores sometime in 2015.
Public Outcry Will Be A Challenge To Acceptance
First, though, the Agriculture Department must process all the public reactions received in a comment period that’s been extended until Jan. 30. The initial comment period, in 2012, drew more than 72,000 statements, including many form letters from opponents. The latest period has drawn more than 6,100 comments, many of them passionately worded from opponents of genetically modified organisms.
“Growing these GMO apples is insane,” Loxahatchee, Fla., resident Ellie Jensen wrote last month.
While the public comments have often been skeptical, federal officials have sounded sympathetic. In an 83-page draft environmental assessment completed last year, Agriculture Department scientists recommended approving the product they think can help the apple industry.
“Browning reduces apple quality by causing detrimental flavor and nutritional changes that limit apple’s fresh-market, fresh-cut and processing applications,” the Agriculture Department officials noted.
Officials loudly claim that organic growers “will not be substantially affected” by the “limited acreage” planted with the genetically engineered crops, but then added that organic growers “may need to discuss their needs” with neighbors who opt for the Arctic apples.
If extra genes allowed the apple to adapt for millions of years, do humans really have the right to silence specific genes to enhance the appearance of Mother Nature’s abundance or even the consumer’s palate?
When genetic engineers insert a new gene into any organism there are “position effects” which can lead to unpredictable changes in the pattern of gene expression and genetic function. The protein product of the inserted gene may carry out unexpected reactions and produce potentially toxic products.
The Agriculture Department, moreover, is effectively limited to considering whether a new product poses a potential plant risk, and questions such as potential market impact or consumer reaction aren’t really part of the equation.
“In general, this administration and past administrations have been very favorable toward biotechnology,” acknowledged Schlect, of the horticultural council.
GMOs Will Never Be The Answer To A Sustainable Food Supply
There are also projects developing insect resistant, transgenic apples. In the US, transgenic apples with delayed softening are being developed with longer shelf life, so that fruit can ripen on the tree. There is no end to the methods of madness that GMO scientists are pursuing to alter Mother Nature.
Genetically modified foods are NOT the answer. Crop uniformity and gene altering such as the research being employed by Plant & Food Research will only reduce genetic diversity making these fruits more vulnerable to disease and pests. The unnatural gene transfers will only create new toxins and weaknesses making us all vulnerable to long-term and potentially persistent illnesses.
We should all be making efforts to take these independent studies very seriously and demand that government agencies reproduce those studies instead of depending on those paid by biotech companies.
Natasha Longo has a master’s degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.