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An Apple Lover’s GMO Apple Lament

"I fear that for apple lovers like me who prefer their apples un-manipulated, the approval of genetically engineered apples may taint the iconic fruits’ image." (Photo: msr/flickr/cc)

What is it about an apple that makes it such a beloved and culturally important fruit? For some it might be its bright red color, its sweet, juicy crunch, its association with the brisk beginnings of fall or perhaps its fabled ability to ward off visits to doctors’ offices.

When I was growing up, my mom packed a home-sliced apple for me every single day for lunch. Though slicing the apples took more time, my mom got into the habit when braces made biting into the skin of an apple an arduous feat. The apple slices were sometimes a bit browned by lunchtime, but it never deterred me from devouring this healthy snack. Furthermore, I never stopped before biting into the apple slices to think to myself, “Gee, if only these slices could be modified somehow to prevent browning.”

The first time that I helped my grandma, Connie, make the Reed family Thanksgiving apple pie, I distinctly remember her teaching me that a little squirt of lemon juice would keep the apples looking and tasting freshly cut. Having grown up during the great depression, my grandma knew just about every trick in the book to keep foods fresh as long as possible. Instead of allowing Americans to continue using the good old-fashioned lemon-squirt-trick to quash browning, the USDA approved genetically engineered apples last week designed to serve the same purpose. I can picture the reaction my grandma would have hearing about these GMO apples today. It would involve some sort of an eye roll or a shrug followed by a suggestion that while USDA is at it, they should genetically engineer her to look younger as well.

I fear that for apple lovers like me who prefer their apples un-manipulated, the approval of genetically engineered apples may taint the iconic fruits’ image. Some apple growers agree with this sentiment. The Northwest Horticultural Council, which represents the northwest tree fruit industry, is opposed to GMO apples because of their potential to ruin the apple’s “wholesome image and negatively impact apple exports. The largest eastern U.S. apple packer, Rice Fruit Company, told the New York Times, “In the marketplace we participate in, there doesn’t seem to room for genetically modified apples now.” Large food companies, McDonald’s and Gerber, have also stated they have no plans to use GMO apples.

Even if the market for these apples is limited, the truth is that without mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, once these apples become commercially available in 2017, it could be impossible for consumers to know which Granny Smith or Golden Delicious apples are GMOs, unless they buy organic.

Just last week, U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Congressman Peter DeFazio introduced bills S.511 and H.R.913 that would require the FDA to clearly label GMO foods. If you are like me and would like to avoid buying GMO apples, tell your representatives to support these bills here.

Genna Reed

Genna Reed is a researcher with Food & Water Watch primarily focused on new technology issues within the food system.

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