Would you eat genetically modified food? Chances are great that you already do so on a regular basis. Long ago, GMO corn and soybeans weaseled their way into the world’s food supply. Other than avoiding foods produced with corn and soybeans, there’s little hope for escape.
Companies are bound and determined to profit from genetic modification, and citizens are understandably skeptical and worried about potential results. Messing with mother nature can have potentially harsh consequences, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) must not be too worried. They recently approved the first GMO food that shall be marketed directly towards consumers. This food, a GMO apple called the Arctic Apple, is produced by Okanagan Specialty Fruits. According to the company’s website, this apple has one main marketing strength: The Arctic Apple does not brown after being sliced and exposed to air.
Ordinary apples generally lose their “fresh” color through enzymatic browning. This is a chemical reaction that occurs after cell injury, which is a fancy explanation for what happens when you slice, bite, or bruise an apple. Arctic Apples will not brown after such handling, and the company promises that these apples will retain their browning-resistant ability for a very long time.
How does this apple accomplish this magnificent feat? Through the manipulation of the apple’s PPO (polyphenol oxidase) gene family. Okanagan Specialty Fruits uses a process called gene silencing, which (to be fair) is “a natural process that all plants (and animals too) use to control expression of their genes.” They promise “no frankenfood” is being produced through this process. Okanagan grafts their transformed plantlets onto rootstock, and they grow like any other apple in an orchard until harvest.
The main problem with the Arctic Apples — beyond the USDA’s approval of a product that drew over 73,000 opposing comments — is that the genetic modification isn’t aimed at improving the nutritional value of the apple itself. The only improvement posed by the Arctic Apple is an aesthetic one. So this poses a question: Is the Arctic Apple worth the risk (however small) of introduction into the food supply? Gene silencing has the potential to weaken the health and defenses (against pests and pathogens) of any plant. The commercialization of GMO apples could also wreak havoc on the rest of the apple industry.
In the end, the market shall decide the fate of the Arctic Apple. Gerber and McDonald’s have already announced that they will not use GMO apples. Gizmodo points out that McDonalds and Frito-Lays successfully shut down a GMO potato last year. Okanagan Specialty Fruits remains confident. They’re already working on GMO version of plums, cherries, and pears. We’ll see how this plays out in the marketplace.