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The burden of apple eating: or how I learned to stop worrying and love genetically engineered apples

Posted Aug. 23, 2012 / Posted by: Eric Hoffman

Here is the biggest problem I face every day:  I want to eat an apple as a healthy snack to get me through the afternoon, but eating a whole apple is really too much for me given my busy schedule. I mean, who has time to eat a whole apple in today’s fast-paced modern world?!

So I cut an apple into slices and put half the slices in the fridge for the next day. But when I go to eat the other half the apple slices have turned brown. How am I supposed to drive my car, text on my iPhone, and eat a whole apple? Really, it’s too much to handle.

Up until now, biotechnology has failed to live up to its promises or its hype. Biotech crops have only benefited a handful of corporations (Monsanto and the like)  while putting the environment, public health and the well being of family farmers at risk. Herbicide resistant crops have only led to an increase in spraying toxic chemicals and the biotech industry has been an obstacle to more nutritious, safer and more environmentally friendly forms of agriculture (something that sustainable agriculture methods like agro-ecology and organic farming are proving to do while meeting the needs of a growing world population).

But human ingenuity has really delivered this time. Thanks to the good folks at Okanagan Specialty Fruits up in Canada, we could soon have an apple, their Arctic® Apple, that has been genetically engineered so it doesn’t brown when exposed to oxygen.

Problem solved! And now Okanagan Specialty Fruits has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve this genetically engineered apple so they can help relieve the burden we all face of having to eat apples that are kind-of-sort-of brown. (Let the USDA know how you feel by submitting a public comment.)

Okanagan Specialty Fruits’ founder and president hit the issue right on the nose when he explained to the New York Times how a whole apple is “for many people too big a commitment.” Finally, a CEO  who understands me and my needs. The list of things that are “too big a commitment” for me is short: 1) getting married, 2) having children, and (last but not least) 3) eating a whole apple.

I know what some of you might be saying: “Why don’t you just put lemon juice on your apples to prevent them from browning? People have been doing this for generations and we’ve never needed genetically engineered apples before.”

My answer to you is: “Have you seen how far away the produce section is from the lemon juice aisle in the grocery store? Like four."  Exactly four aisles too many.

Never mind that consumers don’t want genetically engineered apples. The poll conducted by the British Columbia and Quebec Apple Growers’ Association, which found that 69 percent of Canadians don’t want the apple to be approved in their country, just means that two-thirds of the country doesn’t know that it really does want GE apples…yet. But they will figure it out soon enough when Americans reap the benefit of non-browning apples. I, for one, don’t want to know when my apple has started to rot. Too much information!

No surprise that the apple industry does not want this genetically engineered apple to be approved -- they have a monopoly on the non-GE apple market, after all.  According to the Northwest Horticultural Council -- which represents the tree-fruit industry in and around Washington State, where 60 percent of the U.S.’s apples come from -- it is not “in the best interest of the apple industry of the United States to have that product in the marketplace at this time.”

It might not be in their best interest, but it is in the best interest of the tens of Americans who fear nothing more than a browning apple.

The U.S. Apple Association has said that, “We have not heard any calls for new non-browning cultivars.” This cabal of apple growers goes on to explain how “apples are healthy and nutritious the way they are” and that, “Browning is a natural process that results from exposure to oxygen. There are already naturally low-browning apples in the marketplace. In addition if you just put some vitamin C fortified apple juice on sliced or cut apples it will also prevent browning.” Again, lemon juice (or vitamin C as the fancy apple industry says) is one step too many for me. I want quick, simple, cheap, safe and effective methods like genetic engineering!

Sure, I get it. Apple growers are worried that pollen from GE apples will contaminate their organic or conventional apples leading to a loss of their markets (and an irreversible loss of biodiversity). Or there might be confusion in the marketplace since these apples won’t be labeled as genetically engineered and some people (e.g. hippies) might not buy any apples since they want to eat “normal” browning apples.

But, as I’ve said, I don’t have time to worry about those things. I want my apple slices and I want them to be pretty. As the adage goes, “three-to-four slices of non-browning genetically engineered apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Or something like that? I’ll find the real quote on my iPad as I’m running on the treadmill and eating my single, perfect slice of apple.


But in all seriousness, genetically engineered apples are unnecessary, costly and risky to the environment and consumers alike.

Update: September 11 is the deadline for submitting comments to the USDA. During our campaign, Friends of the Earth activists sent nearly 17,000 comments to the USDA. Be sure to stay tuned for new ways to protect our apples.

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