Food = Energy

Food = Energy

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Is apple browning really worth GM'ing?

Tuesday morning was just like any other morning (I'm a creature of habit. What can I say?). I woke up to my alarm, turned it off before Val could mumble something (of annoyance) at me, and proceeded with the usual: prep coffee, brush my teeth, wash my face, feed the cat, yada-yada-yada. But when Val did finally awaken and eventually find herself on the couch getting in her morning dose of news happenings online, she brought to my attention something that did quite disturb my usual morning routine of relaxation: the USDA has approved, for the first time, genetically modified apples. My world turned upside down. Okay, so I don't need to be so dramatic and the world certainly isn't going to end. But GM'ing apples? Whyyyy...

Why would the USDA approve the genetic modification of apples you ask? Great question, and I am quite ashamed with the answer: to prevent the natural browning of apples that occurs upon being bruised or exposed to the air. 

Is this occurrence really that troubling to people that 1) scientists needed to spend over 10 years studying how to safely prevent this from happening at a genetic level and 2) the Department of Agriculture felt compelled to permit the production and commerce of GM apples--a food so traditional (and pure, in my mind) to the American diet as to beg the question: Is there now no longer a food that would be protected from such genetic tinkering?

The browning of apples is a natural process. It's as natural a process as it gets. 

I get that people don't like looking at, let alone eating, browning apple slices. I further understand that parents and schools would possibly have an easier time getting children to eat sliced apples were it not for the fact that they start to brown after just a couple of minutes. (This article suggests the same.) This is the same reason why some companies (e.g. Mott's) add preservatives to pre-sliced apples and sell them in small plastic packages to distribute to various industries such as fast-food chains and schools. Potatoes have also been modified to prevent bruising, but according to this NY times article, there was a more just and primary reason for the modifying (not sure my feelings change regardless):   "The potato’s DNA has been altered so that less of a chemical called acrylamide, which is suspected of causing cancer in people, is produced when the potato is fried." 

Okay, so cancer-causing chemicals is one thing (although the key word in that quote is "suspected"), but to modify an apple to simply prevent bruising is just too far in my book. What's more, based on what I've read, I have to side with the critics who argue that it is not clear, and may not be for a while, if this GM process of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, the company responsible for this whole thing, will lead to adverse effects for these apple consumers--humans, insects, and animals alike. This article in The Guardian is another good resource for news of this recent USDA approval.

There are two quotes from a few of these resources I read that I'd like to close with: 

The first is from the this article on Biology Fortified. The author closes with this question posed to her readers:  "Remember that fresh fruit tray that this post started with? Which would you prefer – apples treated with chemicals or heat, apples bred to brown a little more slowly, or apples engineered to silence the enzyme that causes browning?" 
My response: How about "None of the above"? Give me my apples as naturally as they come. If I find one a bit bruised or with a bug hole in it, then I'll just put it back and grab another. I don't need GM apples.

The second quote is from The Guardian article I mentioned just above. Director Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association believes, “This whole thing is just another big experiment on humans for no good reason." 

I couldn't have said it better myself.

To be sure that you are buying the most natural produce in the grocery store, check those omnipresent stickers that you sometimes forget to remove before biting into your afternoon snack. This Consumer Reports link sheds some light on what those PLU codes included on this stickers mean. 

Most notably: A five-digit code that starts with an 8 means the item is genetically modified. The annoying part is that PLU codes are not mandatory so you may have to go a bit out of your way (e.g. research the company) to find out if your produce has been genetically modified or not. 

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