When it comes to GMOs in our food supply, FoodFacts.com has always been firmly in the “anti” camp. We’re thrilled that so much is being done in different states to fight for transparency in the labeling of products that contain GMO ingredients. Even though that will be a major win for consumers who have the right to know and understand what’s in the food they’re eating, sometimes it doesn’t seem like enough. This is one of those times.
Today we learned that by the end of 2013, two varieties of genetically modified apples may be sitting in produce sections across the country. The Arctic Granny Smith apple and the Arctic Golden Delicious apple may become the second genetically modified fruits to enter our food supply. Currently, the Hawaiian papaya (Rainbow and SunUp) is the only GM fruit available.
Arctic apples were created by Okanagan Specialty Fruits in British Columbia, Canada. The purpose of their genetic modification was to prevent the browning of their flesh when cut. Browning in apples and potatoes is the result of polyphenol oxidase which is an enzyme that produces melanin that gives the cells a brownish color. A man-made gene was inserted into these seeds and as a result, Arctic apples produce less than 10 percent of the enzyme than conventional apples do. They do not brown when sliced.
The apples have been nicknamed “Botox apples” by the Center for Food Safety, since they have only been genetically modified for cosmetic reasons. Their manufacturer claims that the benefits of Arctic apples go further than cosmetics. They claim that the apples have the potential to reduce food waste and that apples resistant to browning have a better taste and texture than their counterparts. They also claim that the apples are more likely to retain their vitamin C and antioxidants which are eliminated in the browning process.
Some supporters feel that Arctic apples can increase apple sales and consumption of the fruit here in the U.S. In addition, their use by sliced packaged apple producers would result in a healthier product at the grocery store. Most sliced apples have to be sprayed with an anti-oxidant that alters flavor prior to packaging. In addition, grocery stores stocking Arctic apples would cut down on losses because of apple bruising, which leaves the fruit in an unattractive condition and not fit for sale.
Critics focus on the unknown health issues of Arctic apples as well as other genetically modified foods. This has been the problem all along with the issue of GMOs in our food supply. We don’t know enough to proclaim their safety. And studies that have been conducted aren’t exactly encouraging. In addition, apple growers are concerned about genetic drift, where pollen from Arctic apple trees would drift and contaminate nearby organic and conventional orchards. This could prevent some crops from obtaining organic certification and others from exportation to the European Union.
Okanagan is currently seeking “deregulated status” from the USDA for both varieties of Arctic apples. They need to prove that the apple crops aren’t weaker against plant pests and won’t endanger other nearby crops. The Arctic Granny Smith has shown increased incidences of a leaf-eating but, that’s it. The other pests and diseases test for thus far on both varieties of apples have performed the same or better than their conventional counterparts. They are now expecting a second public comment period of 30 days and are anticipating full deregulation later on in 2013.
There are other genetically modified fruit manufacturers that are watching Arctic apples very closely as they prepare their own bids for the entry of other genetically modified fruits into our food supply. Okanagan is already developing genetically modified peaches, pears and cherries.
Kind of a slippery slope, isn’t it? Here at FoodFacts.com, we can’t help thinking that apples turn brown because that’s how nature intended it. Fresh food reacts with its environment. And we know what’s in fresh food. And we know how it works for our bodies and our health. We can’t say that we know the same for Arctic apples – or any other genetically modified food or ingredient. And, frankly, none of us asked for them to begin with.