Apple orchards, apple bobbing and Johnny Appleseed are as American as, well, apple pie. Apples are the pinnacle of American fruit. The reflective red skin encases the apple like Christmas wrapping, and is seen as a respectable gift to be given to any grade school teacher – so long as the proverbial worm is not involved. It keeps the doctor away and is an icon for the technological innovation empowered by the late Steve Jobs. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons why so many Americans believe the apple is soured by genetic engineering.
Neal Carter is the President of Okanagan Specialty Fruits. Through genetic engineering, Carter and his company have produced ‘the Arctic apple.’ Apples are very susceptible to browning and bruising once they are sliced. By altering the genetic make-up of apples, the Canadian company manufactured an immortal apple that refuses to brown with age.
Genetically modified organisms or GMOs have had a bad wrap in the media lately. For those unfamiliar with the term, GMOs are organisms that have been genetically modified in an unnatural way. Traits that are found in one organism’s DNA are ‘cut’ or ‘spliced’, and then inserted into another organism’s DNA. Genetic material is bound inside the nucleus of cells. Since cells have a natural resistance to outside intruders, scientists mix the desired trait with a bacteria or virus which is capable of combating this resistance.
The production of GMOs originally had best intentions in mind. For example, inserting a trait found in an Arctic Flounder fish into tomatoes can enable tomato crops to withstand frigid temperatures. Likewise, genetically engineering apples to not bruise with time is hoped to increase the sales of apple slices. Furthermore, the trait inserted into the Arctic apple is actually found in the apple itself. In particular, by inserting a copy of the trait that actually causes the apple to brown, the apple responds by deactivating all the traits.
Much skepticism has been circulating around about whether or not GMOs are safe. The USDA has declared that Arctic apples are more or less safe and are not any more dangerous than traditional apples. Nevertheless, the Agricultural Department is opening its doors to the public for sixty days to voice their opinion about whether the apple is soured by genetic engineering.
GMOs have been consumed by the general public since the early 1990s. What makes the apple unique in comparison to GMOs of the past is that it is not a processed food. The U.S. Apple Association hesitates to market the Arctic apple, since genetic engineering takes away the fruits aesthetic appeal as a natural and unrefined food. However, Ankanagan’s consumer statistics suggest that 60 percent of Americans would be interested in trying the apple.
Furthermore, the Arctic apple might put small businesses at a disadvantage, since many locally grown, apples that are browning get rejected by super markets. The browning of apples can also be thwarted by soaking them in lemon juice. Opponents of the Arctic apple argue the extremities of genetic engineering are not necessary to preserve the apple’s natural color.
The public’s attitude towards the Arctic apple is unclear. Whether the apple is soured by genetic engineering or browned by the flow of time, the debate is as bitter as an apple core.
By Nathan Cranford