To the USDA: Don't fall prey to the media hysteria of evil GMOs

08/21/2012 07:40:00 AM
Tom Karst

National Editor Tom KarstThe deadline for the comment period is Sept. 11, but there are already over 1,000 comments on the Arctic GMO apple, and most of them are against the introduction of the non-browning apple. However, not everyone agrees that the biotech apple is a bad idea. Check out this comment.

From Wanda Heuser Gale and International Plant Management, Inc.

We are writing in favor of the allowance of Arctic Gold and Acrtic Granny Smith apples. To fall prey to the media histeria of evil GMO's is to cripple the future of agribusiness in the US. We urge you to look at the proven facts to make your decision, not listen to the hype from the press and the hysteriacal feeding frenzies of splinter groups that do not represent the mainstream US consumer.

For every pro-Arctic comment, there are several others that raise objections. Here is a typical comment, this from a Betsy Russ:

I am writing to ask you to not allow nonregulated status to Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. for apples genetically engineered to resist browning (Document ID APHIS-2012-0025-0001). I am concerned that transgenic foods will compromise the integrity of non-transgenic foods' DNA and will cause harm to the environment. It is my opinion that transgenic foods need further study to determine the health consequences to humans who consume such foods. Please stop this madness. Our world is depending on you to make the ethical, moral decision. Just say no to transgenic foods. Thank you, Sincerely, Betsy Russ.

 

It seems science may be on the side of the Arctic apple; USDA approval of the non-browning GMO variety will be a watershed event for the apple industry. I don't think apple industry leaders or the general produce industry is ready to carry the banner for GMO produce varieties. Those who are invested in bringing the Arctic to market will have to do the heavy lifting. In Japan, such promotional work is ongoing for the GMO Rainbow papaya.

 

From the USDA FAS:

On July 7 and 8, the first Rainbow (GMO) Papaya sales promotion targeting general consumers was held at the SPA Hawaiians Resort in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture (about 135 miles north of Tokyo). Over 2,000 SPA guests viewed papaya promotion, and over 600 people sampled the fruit. This was the second Rainbow papaya sales in Japan since COSTCO Japan sold the papayas to their warehouse members in December last year. Deep rooted concerns on GMO food have still been running rampant in the market, but mainly from the large importers. However, all prepared Rainbow papayas were sold out during the promotion, much better sales results than expected.

 

Getting beyond the "Frankenfood" characterizations will take time and money for marketers of GM fruits and vegetables. Consumers need to see the Arctic apple as just another apple.  Is it doable? Is it worth it? Those are questions that will be answered in the next three years.



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Steve Savage    
Encinitas, CA  |  August, 22, 2012 at 01:25 AM

Tom, thanks for this statement. If the fresh produce industry is ever to benefit from a precedent for biotechnology, the Arctic Apple is about the least controversial biotech product you can imagine. It is from a small, mostly grower owned entity with no "big bad company" ties. It is a consumer-oriented trait. It will be voluntarily "labeled" as what it is for consumers and that is practical because it is in an identity preserved segment. It involves no "foreign genes," and is actually just about some genes being turned off, which is actually the norm for most genes in most cells of most organisms. It does not get much better than that

JIND Fruit Co.    
Osoyoos, BC  |  August, 22, 2012 at 05:43 PM

The USDA should indeed avoid falling prey to “media hysteria“ from EITHER side of this debate. Let’s not further charge the issue by stereotyping non-GMO advocates as superstitious, science-hating Luddites. In a perfect world, long-term studies would find GM foods to be safe, with those foods then exercising their promise to eradicate world hunger - or feed those who eschew slightly brown apples. BUT before that happens, shouldn't the Arctic apple and other GM foods undergo more extensive long-term study? We have seen health effects that take a long time to become apparent, and one subtle dietary effect can build over years to become a problem (e.g. diabetes, BSE). Multiply that by the population of GM food eaters in North America and we could see a major health issue. Maybe it's unlikely, maybe it's not. You write, "It seems science may be on the side of the Arctic apple," but regardless of how many sound preliminary studies have been done on their dietary effects, "Science" hasn't had enough time to assess the Arctic apple’s effects on people over the long-term. Until we understand how their modifications affect us, the Arctic apple and other GM foods may be putting eaters at risk. Or may not. But when we see companies dumping dollars into thwarting initiatives such as Proposition 37, it certainly causes the SpideySense™ to tingle. Our second issue with the Arctic apple is one of public sentiment. Negative opinion of GM fruit COULD end up doing more harm than good for growers if GM apples are allowed. Allowing the Arctic apple seems a rather large risk that stands to benefit only a few (the patent owners and vendors of cut apples), especially for the purpose of introducing a trait as insignificant as non-browning.

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