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July 17, 2012 at 1:25 PM

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I bite into GMO apples

Last week The New York Times printed a story about the Arctic Apple, which is genetically engineered not to turn brown after you cut it. The apple is produced by Okanagan Specialty Fruits in Summerland, B.C., north of Penticton. The U.S. Apple Association opposes it because, says the NYT, “it could undermine the fruit’s image as a healthy and natural food.”

I’ve just never got this “natural” stuff. If you plant a tree, it grows, and apples appear on it, is it not natural? Is “natural” supposed to mean no human involvement in changing the species? Well, then Braeburns are not natural. An ear of sweet corn is not natural, nor is a russet potato. How about a dog? Is a wienerdog natural?

Do you care? Does the wienerdog care?

What is different about the Arctic Apple? According to the NYT story, it has less polyphenol oxidase, an enzyme that turns apples brown when cut. And that’s all. Otherwise, it’s just an apple.

And the reaction? A professional worrywart from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network is quoted in the story wondering if the Arctic Apple will be so beautiful that people won’t be able to tell when it rots. (No chance. It rots the same as other apples.) She then worries that the new apple might be sold in slices, in plastic bags, thereby becoming “an industrialized product.”

That would be terrible, eh?

Then there is the safety issue. A New York reader wrote: “The only people who think this stuff is safe for consumption are the people making money from it (surprise, surprise). We're really willing to mess with nature so people can serve an apple at a meeting that isn't brown? Sad.”

It’s not sad. It’s delightful that a biologist offers an apple that doesn’t turn brown. Yeah, the brownness of cut apples is not a life-threatening problem, and yeah, you can treat sliced apple with vitamin C and calcium, as some fast-food places do, or with lemon juice, to keep them looking nice. But if the Arctic Apple stays fresh-looking naturally (without artificially adding lemon juice to it), it's a good thing.

It’s not true, as the blogger says, that the only people who would think the Arctic Apple safe are the people making money from it. The American fruit growers don’t think a genetically modified apple is unsafe. I'll bet the B.C. fruit growers, whose association also opposes it, don't think it's unsafe. The worry of the trade association folks is that the idea of a genetically modified apple will affect the market value of their investments—and maybe also prod them to rip up their old apple trees and buy new ones.

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