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article imageOp-Ed: Activists say GMO non-browning apples are a rotten deal

By Holly L. Walters     Feb 19, 2015 in Health
Wouldn't it be great if you could buy red or golden apples and they never turned brown? That means that you can cut your apples into quarters and they won't turn brown and spoil. That would be the best, wouldn't it?
Well, it probably wouldn't be the best because these apples are genetically modified, and you wouldn't necessarily know that while you were eating them.
The USDA Approves Non-Browning Apples
In a 2015 press release, the USDA said that it will no longer be regulating the growth of GMO non-browning apples because those apples passed the final Plant Pest Risk Assessment test (PPRA), reports CNN, and are no longer considered to be a danger to other plants. The USDA actually gives a very detailed and informative reason for its description, which does not mention human health in any way. This lack of apparent interest in the potential health ramifications of these apples is one of the many issues that activists want every American to know about.
Will There be a Lot of These Apples at Your Grocery Store?
Right now, the only company that is growing the genetically modified apples is Okanagan Specialty Fruits out of British Columbia, Canada. After almost five years of waiting, Okanagan finally got the approval from the USDA to ship their GMO fruits into the United States and put them on American store shelves.
It should be noted that the whole reason that Okanagan is excited about this decision is because non-browning apples are a big marketing draw for customers. People love the idea of being able to cut their apples and not have them go brown and mushy before they can finish eating them.
The real issue for opponents of the decision is that Okanagan is not required to label the apples as being genetically modified, which means that consumers will not know the real reason their apples stay fresh for so long. According to USA Today, GMO fruits are not supposed to be dangerous to humans. However, there are plenty of people who disagree with that notion.
What Does This Mean?
The issue that opponents have with this sort of decision is that it does not force Okanagan to identify their apples as being altered in any way. Okanagan can legally put its apples right next to apples that were not altered and sell them to any customer who wants them. The only indicator customers may have is if the apples are marketed as being non-browning, but Okanagan Specialty Fruits has given no indication that it intends to discern its apples from any others.
This fact alone is highly unusual and worthy of scrutiny because it seems very odd for a company to go through the trouble of developing non-browning apples if they were not planning to capitalize on this distinction for marketing purposes. This is one of the many factors that have caught the attention of activists, and it definitely deserves to be looked at in greater detail.
What Are Activists Doing to Derail This Development?
The Environmental Working Group is opposed to the idea of companies being able to sell GMO food without identifying it as such. Therefore, they have started a petition to ask members of Congress to make it legally necessary for all GMO food to carry the GMO label.
A petition on its own might not do much good, but there are two politicians who have decided to put their weight behind this topic. Representative Peter DeFrazio from Oregon and Senator Barbara Boxer from California are co-authors of the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act. If this bill becomes a law, all food manufacturers would be legally required to put the GMO label on any applicable item.
To date, there are 67 co-signers for this bill, but it has been sitting without much movement since it was first introduced in 2013. The Environmental Working Group is hoping to change this lack of action by presenting members of Congress with their petition.
There have also been other petitions in the past aimed at getting the USDA to stop catering to food manufacturers who use GMO ingredients. For example, a petition on asked the USDA to Say No to GMO Apples. This campaign attracted more than 7,000 signatures, but it was ultimately unsuccessful at achieving its goal.
Activists and the Food Industry: Unusual Allies
The founders of Okanagan might feel like they have won an important battle by receiving USDA approval, but this is truly only the beginning of their fight. After all, not only do 66 percent of Americans strongly favor labeling products that are made with GMO ingredients but other food manufacturers are not happy about non-browning apples.
The Northwest Horticulture Council is concerned about the marketing aspects of Okanagan’s apples, and they believe that the lack of transparency could cause many consumers to avoid all apples. This fear has put activists and non-GMO apple farmers on the same page, and their combined efforts will be needed to push Congress and the USDA into taking action to avoid consumer confusion.
How Do Non-Browning Apples Work?
Researchers at Okanagan Specialty Fruits were able to identify and remove the enzyme in apples that makes apples brown when exposed. Okanagan says that it has been monitoring its research closely and is confident that its apples are safe for humans, but this theory has only been partially tested with four focus groups.
Members of these groups were given an opportunity to see and taste these GMO apples, and Okanagan claims that 80 percent of the participants indicated that they would be willing to buy the non-browning product in the future.
Even though there has been a lack of real world testing, the USDA has seen the data and is convinced that the apples are safe enough to sell to American consumers. Okanagan maintains that their apples will last longer and give consumers better value for their money.
Meanwhile, opponents still want the apples to be extensively tested for safety before allowing them to be sold to human consumers. Officials at Okanagan disagree with the idea of separate labeling and maintain that any information customers could need is located on Okanagan's website.
It takes approximately two years for a genetically modified apple tree to deliver its non-browning fruit. Okanagan plans on being able to ship its first bushel of apples by late 2016 and there are plans in place for mass distribution starting in 2017.
Okanagan's data suggests that its GMO apples offer the same exact nutritional benefits as a non-modified apple, but that still does not quiet the critics. Activists insist that consumers should be told when they are buying genetically modified food, and producers like Okanagan staunchly disagree. It looks like when it comes to GMO fruit, this one apple could spoil the whole barrel for everyone else.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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