I suppose it was only a matter of time before somebody messed with our beloved apple. We humans just can’t leave nature alone. Our ability to create and manifest what we imagine infuses us with an arrogance that takes my breath away.
The simple, humble apple is being re-introduced into the marketplace (if the USDA and Okanagen Specialty Fruits have their way…), new and improved. What, you say? How can we improve on the apple, the universal symbol of health and wellness? The fruit that was so perfect, so glorious it was considered the fruit of knowledge in the Bible?
Well, we can keep it from browning when we bite or slice it, silly! Doesn’t that just make your day?
Now before you ask, there must be some tremendous, life-altering reason we did this to apples, right? No, there’s not. Will we be able to produce more apples? No. Will the apples last longer? No. Is there a benefit to the growers of apples? Nope. How about a health benefit to consumers? Not a one.
So why, you may ask, are we doing this to apples?
To quote the Arctic Apples website, suppressing the gene that allows for browning of apples (natural oxidation) is to remove “the yuck factor” of browning apples that they are trying to convince us is the reason people don’t eat enough of this luscious fruit. Seriously?
So the mad scientists at Okanagen Specialty Fruits figured out a way to genetically alter apples to prevent enzymatic browning, by turning down the expression of PPO (polyphenol oxidase) and phenolics that turn apple flesh brown. In a process called ‘gene silencing,’ low PPO genes from other apples are employed to create this non-browning apple known as the Arctic Apple.
Is this a bad idea? Haven’t farmers and growers hybridized, spliced, and bred their way to better varieties of fruits and vegetables for hundreds, if not thousands of years? Yes, they have, by working within the rhythms of nature and allowing the breeds develop at a rate in a way that does not violate the natural order of our environment.
One look at the Arctic Apple website tells the story. They tell us how safe and natural they are. They tell us that there’s no difference between these franken-apples and natural apples. But consider this. When a farmer hybridizes an apple, there’s no approval process required by the USDA before said apple can be introduced into the marketplace.
Arctic Apples are under consideration for approval by this United States regulatory body (not that it will stand up to biotechnology in defense of consumer and planetary health if history shows any pattern). Why is this necessary if they are the same as natural apples? If what Okanagen did was simply cross-breed and splice as farmer do, why is federal approval needed? New apple varieties achieved in the more traditional, natural way do not require federal regulation, testing, and approval.
Could it be that they aren’t really like natural apples at all?
If you are as smart as they hope you are not, you will have realized by now that I refer to the USDA and not the FDA in this regulation fight. The FDA handles our food safety, right? They would be the agency to decide if the Arctic Apple is safe for human consumption. The USDA is responsible for protecting our agriculture from pests and disease. This is an important distinction because the USDA will base its decision on whether or not the Arctic Apple poses a risk to plants, not humans.
Neal Carter, founder of Okanagen Specialty Fruits, claims these GM fruits are safe. “These are the most tested and scrutinized apples in the world, and probably the safest apples in the world,” he said in a recent interview.
Tested and scrutinized by whom, you ask?
Like all GM foods, they are tested by the company producing them, akin to the inmates running the asylum. There has been no independent testing. There is no way to know, objectively, the real story of these apples. The science on their website is supported by their scientists, their experts.
What’s the big deal, really?
Scientists around the world are sounding alarms on health concerns with the relatively new (and so far untested) technology that makes these apples possible. “dsRNA technology” is used to silence the gene that causes apples to brown, not prevent rotting, just prevent browning. These GM apples will still rot, just like natural apples.
Professor Jack Heinemann (University of Canterbury, New Zealand) Sarah Agapito-Tenfen (from Santa Catarina University in Brazil), and Judy Carman (Flinders University in South Australia) have all said that dsRNA manipulation is untested and because of that is inherently risky. Their concern is that the dsRNA from our food will enter the bloodstream and cells of consumers with unknown consequences. They reasonably recommend research be done on the safety of the GMO apple before it’s approved for human consumption.
Arctic Apples will also contain an antibiotic gene marker that makes the plant tissue resistant to the antibiotic, kanamycin (an antibiotic that keeps certain bacteria thriving). According to the Arctic Apple website: “…there is no potential toxicity from this protein” and on top of that, it would be broken down in digestion almost immediately. So, the key message here is that there is no need to worry about the marker gene we use. Arctic Apples have proven to be just as safe as conventional apples!” I should note that they spend a lot of time on their site touting the safety of their apples.
Okanagen Specialty Fruits has said that Arctic Apples will not cross-contaminate natural apples through cross-pollination and cite the absolutely silly reason that since the bees do the pollinating, not the wind, that the risk is low, since bees have a tough time maneuvering through dense plants. And…”On the outside chance that cross-pollination with Arctic apples does occur, genes from the Arctic apple parent will be present only in some of the resulting apples’ seeds – not in the fruits’ skin or flesh. Apple seeds aren’t eaten or processed into juice or sauce.” Just in the seeds, so when the seeds hit the soil, that GM DNA is now in the soil, resulting in…well, who knows?
But there’s more to this story than Arctic Apples. There is a bigger picture to consider here and it’s the root of what ails us. In our arrogant desire to have dominion over all things, we jeopardize the delicate balance that makes Earth a hospitable home to the life that thrives upon it. We must question why we continue down this path? With Arctic Apples just the latest violation of nature.
What was the driving factor behind this creation, which has been in development for more than fifteen years? Did consumers demand apples that don’t brown? No. Chefs? No. Oh, sure, Okanagen did a survey of 1,000 customers to discover that 58 percent of these self-described apple eaters thought a non-browning apple might be a good idea. Not exactly blistering consumer demand.
Arctic Apples do not show any significant nutritional benefit either. They “may” hold onto more of their antioxidants that could be lost in the browning process, but there is no substantial proof.
In the end, greed and arrogance continue to drive the train on GM food. Our enchantment with our ability to create has set us on a path that pits humans against Mother Nature. Greed fuels the ambition of a few to control the food for the many. The truth is simple. It’s not political power that will win the day. It’s who owns the food.
GM food violates nature at every turn with humanity as unwilling guinea pigs. None of us know the long-term effects of genetically altering food; not on humans or the planet.
Arctic Apples look the same and probably even taste the same as natural apples, but in truth, so did the poison apple the wicked queen fed to Snow White. And we all know how that turned out and frankly, I don’t see the USDA as our Prince Charming. We are the only ones who can wake humanity from this slumber of deceit and take our food back. Only by honoring nature do we have a future.
Image Source: Selma Broeder/Flickr