The first genetically modified apples, the Arctic Apple (made by Canadian corporation Okanagan Specialty Fruits), will start being marketed to consumers this fall all across the Midwest and California. The apple, a genetically modified Golden Delicious apple, has been modified so it doesn’t brown as quickly as conventional apples and will be sold pre-sliced in bags for your “convenience”.
Browning actually serves an important function as it is a sign of aging and indicates that apples are no longer fresh. Being able to see the browning of an apple helps protect us from exposure to pathogens which can make us sick. But this isn’t the biggest way that GMO apples are a danger to our health.
Science Policy Analyst, Bill Freeze, from the Centers for Food Safety noted that some studies in tomatoes have shown that silencing PPO has an impact on a plant’s susceptibility to diseases and invasive insects because the enzyme may play a role in plant defense reactions.
LiveScience explains more about the potential risks of the lack of research about the silencing of these PPO genes:
“Okanagan’s petition regarding its apple also did not analyze whether it has inadvertently silenced genes outside the PPO family. In addition to failing to properly characterize the genetically engineered apple, the Okanagan assessment gave short shrift to potential effects on wild pollinators and honeybees, human nutrition and weediness.
The PPO genes that cause browning in apples are part of a family of 10 or 11 closely related genes. Okanagan’s process is aimed at only four of the genes, but because the gene sequences are very similar it will probably have effects on all of them. Why does that matter? PPO gene families perform multiple functions in plants. Little is known about the PPO gene family in apples, but in other plants, PPO genes are known to bolster pest and stress resistance. This raises the question of whether non-browning apple trees might be more vulnerable to disease and require more pesticides than conventional apples — and whether they might transfer those vulnerabilities to other apple trees.”
Also interesting to note is that back in 2013 the U.S. Apple Association (which represents 60% of all apples grown in the US), the Northwest Horticultural Council, and the BC Fruit Grower’s Association all urged regulatory authorities in the U.S. and Canada to deny approval to the Arctic. In a letter to the USDA, the Northwest Horticultural Council compared the “threat of the Arctic apple” to “an invasive pest species.”
Arctic Apples proudly boasts about their genetically engineered creation on their website, describing how they created this non-browning apple:
“So how’d we “make” a nonbrowning apple? The small number of genes (four, to be exact) that control PPO production were identified several years back, when the apple’s genome was mapped. To create a nonbrowning Arctic® version of an existing apple variety, our science team uses gene silencing to turn down the expression of PPO, which virtually eliminates PPO production, so the fruit doesn’t brown. This genetic transformation is aided by modern science tools. (We’ll explain what we mean by “modern science tools” in a later post.)”
“The end result of all this science is just an apple tree, now with very low PPO production to prevent enzymatic browning in its fruit. Our Arctic® apple trees grow and behave in the orchard, blossom and bear fruit just like their conventional counterparts. We’ve got almost 10 years of test orchard experience to document that. Arctic® apples are also compositionally and nutritionally similar to conventional apples, further indicating that lower levels of PPO aren’t consequential to the tree or the fruit. It’s only when one of our apples is bitten, sliced or cut that the Arctic® apple difference becomes clear.
What role does PPO play in the plant, you might ask? In some plants, PPO plays a defensive role – for example, tomatoes produce high levels of PPO when attacked by pests or pathogens. In contrast, apples produce very low levels of PPO, and only in very young fruit. Its presence is probably left over from apples of ages ago, playing no role in today’s apples.”
The truth is that we have no idea how this GMO apple will impact the health of its consumers. Will it cause reactions like organ damage, allergies and cancer in animals as it does with GMO corn? Will it decrease the nutrition in the fruit and lead to bacteria resistance as it has been shown to do in GMO soy? Only time will tell.
Instead of purchasing genetically modified Arctic apples when they become available this fall, consider buying one of these 10 varieties of apples that naturally slow to brown:
You can also create your own non-browning apples for a lunchbox by dipping apple slices into freshly squeezed lemon juice- No brown apples, no GMOs!
Cover Image courtesy of theorganicprepper.ca