GMO Apples That Don’t Brown Approved, Prompting Food Safety Debate

GMO apples which “don’t brown” were just approved by the USDA despite stiff objections from organic growers and food safety activists. The genetically modified apple is the first apple which will allegedly not brown after being sliced or bruised.

The GMO apple was developed by the company Okanagan Specialty Fruits. The biotech company reportedly uses a fairly new form of genetic engineering called RNA interference or gene silencing. The GMO technique has “raised numerous concerns from consumer groups, environmentalists, and the apple industry,” according to the Center for Food Safety. “Like other GE products in the U.S., no mandatory labeling will be required. This approval allows commercial production of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties of Okanagan’s non-browning ‘Arctic’ apple, and the company has Fuji and Gala versions on the horizon.”

Pre-sliced packaged apples are often available in fast food restaurants, and is reportedly a frequently recalled food product. Once the apple is sliced, it reportedly has an increased risk of exposure to pathogens. Because the browning of an apple is a natural sign that the fruit is no longer fresh, food safety advocates feel that the genetically modified apple “masking” could lead to people eating contaminated apples. Some anti-GMO advocates and growers have dubbed the genetically engineered apple the “botox apple.”

Center for Food Safety Executive Director Andrew Kimbrel had this to say about GMO apples.

“This product is completely unnecessary and poses numerous risks to apple growers, the food industry and consumers. For USDA to turn a blind eye to these risks for such an inessential technological ‘advance’ is foolish and potentially costly.”

Another concern involving GMO apples is the contamination of orchards and crops on nearby farms. Since there are currently no nationwide GMO labeling laws, American consumers could likely bite into a genetically modified apple without being aware of what they are eating.

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, GMO labeling legislation was recently reintroduced in both houses of Congress by Democratic Senators. Renowned Chef Tom Colicchio joined with California Senator Barbara Boxer, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, and Oregon Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio on the bipartisan legislation.

If passed, the GMO labeling that would ultimately give American consumers more information about what is in the food on their dinner plates and how the crops are produced. The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act would mandate the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) order that food manufacturers label foods that contain GMO ingredients. Biotech giants like Monsanto and Sygenta oppose such legislation.

“We cannot continue to keep Americans in the dark about the food they eat. More than sixty other countries make it easy for consumers to choose. Why should the U.S. be any different? If food manufacturers stand by their product and the technology they use to make it, they should have no problem disclosing that information to consumers,” Representative Peter Defazio said.

“This decision is scientifically irresponsible and misguided,” Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior Center for Food Safety scientist said about GMO apples. “The agency has failed to analyze whether suppressing fruit browning with these novel RNAs impacts the rest of the gene family in the tree, or whether there are off-target impacts on other genes. USDA should hold off on deregulating RNAi-engineered crops until they have gotten a grip on the latest research in this area.”

Unlike earlier versions of similar cut-and-splice techniques which focused on DNA, the new RNA technique, or RNAi, are reportedly based on the manipulation of RNA molecules to reduce or “silence” genes. The Arctic Apple has reportedly engineered to reduce polyphenol oxidase (PPO) enzymes responsible for browning in apple flesh after bruising. “These enzymes are also found throughout the tree, where impacts of the engineering were not determined. In addition, recent studies show that interference targeting one gene might unpredictably turn off, or down unrelated genes,” according to the Center for Food Safety.

In other plants, PPO genes are known to bolster pest and stress resistance. As a result, non-browning apple trees might be more vulnerable to disease and require more pesticides than conventional apples. Okanagan did not analyze PPO gene functions in apples other than browning in the fruit. Nor did it attempt to determine whether it has inadvertently silenced genes outside the PPO family. In addition, the Okanagan assessment also gave short shrift to potential effects on wild pollinators and honeybees, human nutrition, and weediness.

The U.S. Apple Association, Northwest Horticultural Council, and other grower groups have already voiced their disapproval of GMO apples due to the perceived negative impact they could have on farmers growing organic produce and the apple industry as a whole.

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