On the heels of my post about the new Arctic Apple on Wednesday, another post on the subject on Real Agriculture. I love this post by Debra Murphy. Thanks to a couple of my twitter friends for sharing it!
I have a few things I want to say about GMOs as there seems to be a lot of confusion regarding them and I’ve had a couple of people suggest related topics for blog posts.
1. The Arctic apple was approved for production by the FDA and the CFIA a few weeks ago. Some
food manufacturers people are pretty excited about this because it means that you will now be able to slice or bite an apple without having to worry about unsightly enzymatic browning. I mean, god forbid that your apple innards not be a pristine white. Am I the only one who finds it ironic that this was approved at the same time as everyone’s expressing such enthusiasm for “ugly” vegetables and fruits?
It’s this sort of use of genetic modification that makes me particularly angry. The primary argument in support of GMOs is that they will help to feed the world through hardier higher yielding crops. An apple that doesn’t brown is going to be of no benefit to people living in drought stricken regions. It’s not going to help alleviate the hunger of anyone except the food manufacturers who think that apples need to be pre-sliced and packaged in plastic pouches at exorbitant prices. Did you know that an apple comes with a lovely natural protective skin on it and that it can be sold intact? Did you know that you can eat an apple without slicing it first? And that there are kitchen tools called knives that enable you to slice an apple yourself if that’s your preferred method of consumption. Come on. Creating an apple that doesn’t brown when exposed to the air should not have been a priority for engineers. Do something worthwhile.
2. Non-GMO is not the same thing as organic. Based on the current definitions, all organic foods must be non-GMO but not all non-GMO foods are organic. Organic foods must also be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides. Which leads to number three…
3. Mamavation’s top 10 reasons to feed your family organic which are basically a list of lies. One and two being true (although not necessarily good reasons to feed your family organic) and the rest, aside from number six, being misleading at best and completely false at worst. 3. Organic foods have been found to contain residual pesticides. Organic farmers are permitted to use pesticides, they just can’t use inorganic (i.e. synthetic pesticides). In addition to those pesticides, organic crops also become contaminated with inorganic pesticides through air, rain, and soil contamination. 4. Have you ever looked at any of the packaged organic foods in your local supermarket? Products containing preservatives are plentiful. While they may not contain artificial flavours or colours this doesn’t make them nutritionally superior. Natural fallacy anyone? Beaver anal glands (can’t miss an opportunity to mention them!). 5. No antibiotics or hormones. You won’t find these in any Canadian milk regardless of whether or not it’s organic. In fact, you’ll only find hormones in beef and antibiotics in some animals (1). 7. There is no evidence, despite numerous studies, that organic foods contain more nutrients than non-organic foods. 8. Better taste. How to argue with subjectivity? I have had some delicious organic foods and some that taste terrible. I think that freshness and variety are more important factors in flavour profile than organic is. 9. Support the farmer and the farm. Organic is irrelevant here. I think that she’s confusing conventional agriculture with factory farms. Many smaller farming operations may be organic without being certified organic, they may also not use organic practices. You can also buy organic foods that come from large-scale farming operations. A better suggestion: buy local, know your farmer. 10. Reduces pollution and saves energy. Again, this is confusing farm-scale with organic and conventional farming practices.
While I’m not a supporter of genetic modification, I’m even more opposed to ignorant fear mongering.
You’ve probably heard about the non-browning Arctic Apple by now. Apparently they’ve turned off one enzyme so that the apples don’t get that unsightly browning, that apples currently get, when exposed to air. Why do apples turn brown when exposed to air? It’s due to enzymatic browning. Basically exposure of certain enzymes to oxygen cause them to react and turn the apple brown. There’s absolutely nothing harmful about this reaction it’s just not all that appealing to eat a browned apple. Enzymatic browning can be prevented or at least reduced by coating cut apple in an acidic juice, such as lemon juice, which both reduces the exposure of the enzymes to the air and partially deactivates the enzymes because of the acid in the juice.
The creators of the Arctic Apple would have you believe that the resistance to their product is a result of an unfounded fear of change. I don’t think it’s that simple. There is definitely fear there, but I believe it to be legitimate. By introducing these new apple trees to the orchards we don’t know what long-term effects they may have on the eco-system or apple growing industry. There may be unintended consequences that we won’t know about until it’s too late. For example, they might be damaging to the essential bee and pollinator population thereby wreaking havoc on all of our agriculture. Genetic manipulation is not the same as using grafting and cross-pollination to breed new plants. There are many more risks to the environment and to our health when it comes to GMO. The big question I have here is: why do we need a non-browning apple? Are we so obsessed with the aesthetics of our food that we’re willing to assume all of these risks just to avoid eating a slightly browned slice of apple?