Brown out in Arctic apples raises GM ire
The Australian, July 21 2012
A NEW type of apple -- the Arctic -- has been developed in Canada that does not brown when sliced, diced or bruised.
Its breeders are confident the new Arctic varieties of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples will lure back consumers.
But the bad news, if you like your food tamper-free, is that Arctic apples have been bred using the latest in genetic engineering.
If approved -- the agricultural biotech company Okanagan Specialty Fruits has applications before authorities in the US and Canada -- it will be one of the first genetically modified foods sold ready to be eaten fresh and raw.
Okanagan is certain the non-browning apple will prove popular and help increase sales in the US, which have fallen 25 per cent in the past 30 years.
But it's a development some Australian scientists, organic farming proponents and others concerned about the growing genetic manipulation of crops and food sources say is both unwanted and unwelcome.
Former CSIRO plant scientist Maarten Stapper, who five years ago claimed to have been drummed out for speaking out against GM-work, calls it scientific folly and dangerous to put such cutting-edge science into practice without adequate long-term trials.
The government's new National Food Plan, which was released last Tuesday, argues for greater acceptance and use of GM higher-yielding, lower water-usage and disease-resistant crop varieties to help the nation's farmers double food output by 2050.
"This is not proven science; we are talking about manipulating genes and the function of a gene is only inherited in the next generation -- how can transferring a foreign gene not affect the host (species) and the life of that gene continuing?" asks Dr Stapper, a keynote speaker at the Sustain organic food expo in Sydney today.
"The long-term impact is only coming to the fore now after 10 to 15 years of GM crops and more and more science is proving that the cumulative effect of eating GM is that it is unsafe for human consumption."
In Arctic apples, the new genes that prevent browning have not been introduced into apples from an entirely different species of plant or bacteria. Instead, Okanagan scientists have found that by copying and inserting an extra set of four of the apple's own genes back into its seed cells, production of the browning enzyme, polyphenol oxidase, can be completely shut down.
Dr Stapper says the source of new or extra genes is immaterial when it comes to whether the food is safe to consume long term.
He attributes health problems emerging in animals and humans such as reproductive disorders, miscarriages, kidney problems, birth defects and a massive rise in gut allergies to GM-crops endemic in the food chain.
"To let GM-apples be grown and eaten would be completely wrong; the science is not there that says GM is safe because the long-term feeding trials have not been done," he says.