With so much negative rhetoric and media coverage of biotechnology as it has been applied to food production—Round-up Ready commodity crops that (allegedly) encourage herbicide use, Frankenfood fears about ‘foreign proteins’ in GM foods—it would seem to be a no-brainer for industry to lead the cheering when genetic engineering actually develops a benign yet consumer-friendly food that offers benefits to people, not producers.
Not if you’re the U.S. Apple Association (USApple), the trade group representing the nation’s apple growers.
When a company called Okanagan Specialty Fruits approached USDA for approval of a GM variety that reduced browning after the apple is cut open, one might be tempted to think that this would be a positive development. Anyone who has left a cut-up apple sitting around for more than a few minutes can testify that the cut surfaces turn a most unattractive brownish color.
Try getting a kid to eat a slice of brown apple. Ain’t gonna happen.
But even as USDA opened a comment period on Okanagan’s petition for deregulation of its new biotech apple, USApple didn’t wait for the predictable “outrage” from anti-biotech activists. Instead, the Virginia-based trade group fired back with its own salvo:
“Apples grown in the United States are healthy, delicious and provide essential antioxidents (sic) that are linked to protection from chronic diseases,” the group’s news release stated. “There are no genetically engineered or genetically modified apples available to consumers. There have been recent stories in the press regarding a proposal before USDA to deregulate ArcticTM apples, which are gentically (sic) engineered to prevent browning. USApple does not support the approval of this product.”
Why, one might plausibly ask, would apple growers be against a variety that addresses an aspect of product usage that is perceived as negative? When biotechnology research is used to promote benefits only for growers and producers, activists have a legitimate beef. Genetic engineering has long been touted as a force for improving both the nutritional and sensory quality of the staple foods we eat—only the science rarely seems to deliver anything other than production benefits of limited value to consumers and suspect impact on environmental issues.
Which is why anti-GMO activists have gained such traction in the face of clear scientific evidence of both the safety and efficacy of biotechnology.