Monday, November 29, 2010

The Botox Apple: Coming Soon to a Store Near You

By now you, my dear readers, are quite familiar with my stance on genetic modification. I've written not once, but twice about Enviropig™, and I've introduce you to its cousin, AquAdvantage™ salmon, so let's keep the momentum going and spend some time pondering that most important of all questions: how do we keep sliced apples from browning?

Hopefully, like me, you're already groaning. I opened the link to the Associated Press article after reading someone's message on Twitter about news related to GMOs and apples. What I expected to read about was some researcher's quest to lower the number of pesticides necessary to yield a healthy apple crop - wait, I think that's an oxymoron ("pesticides" and "healthy" in the same sentence?). If not, it's a terrible pun. To my surprise, the drive behind introducing foreign genes into apples is, as I mentioned above, unrelated to solving the problem of apples' susceptibility to infestation. That's right, a Canadian biotechnology company hopes to gain USDA approval of genetically modified apples that won't brown when cut open. Benefits include making producers and distributors of ready-to-eat bagged apple snacks richer, making that Canadian biotechnology company richer, and... nothing else.

Drawbacks include:
  • cross-pollination of traditional apple trees with genetically modified ones
  • trashing entire orchards' worth of apple trees to start over with the GMO variety
  • human health and other environmental effects that we can't even predict and often don't research
  • if sales of apple snacks go up, a greater use of energy and water in processing the fruit, larger greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, and an increase in waste generation due to packaging, to name a few
  • no benefit to consumers, unless you believe the market actually wants botox apples and will therefore increase their daily intake of fruit
  • teaching the public, especially children, that white apples are natural and good for you - because it's not like there will be a big, bright label on the package that identifies the GMO contents

Can you think of any more? You guys are smart. I bet you can.

What researchers ought to be spending their time and money on is developing more efficient and more effective pest management strategies that don't require pesticides or other toxic chemicals. I've written about this issue before, but what I failed to draw your attention to was the fact that apples ranked fourth in the Environmental Working Group's list of "Dirty Dozen" produce, based on how many pesticides are typically involved in their cultivation. That's why this is so important, way more important than the colour of an apple's flesh once you slice into it.

Armed with this knowledge, and knowing we can't really influence the USDA, I suggest the following simple actions:
  • buy whole apples instead of processed, packaged slices - you'll be getting more bang for your buck because you can eat all the way through to the core (factory slices are tiny), and as a bonus, the experience of biting into a whole apple is more satisfying, and juice running down your chin will make you laugh
  • buy apples grown locally to support the farmers in your region
  • source an apple orchard that uses alternatives to pesticides to keep yourself healthy
  • if they don't know it, teach your family and friends that browning is natural and does not indicate that the apple has gone bad

Oh, and don't forget to read the article while crunching into that apple you're having a craving for!


  1. I have never and will never understand why people choose to ever buy packaged sliced apples. Really people? The time that it takes to slice one is SO minute! And whole apples are already super cheap!

    But to respond to the topic at hand, I will often slice up an apple to bring with me as a snack, because I can't always eat a whole apple in one sitting (especially at work, when my hands are constantly busy). To keep it from browning, a squeeze of lemon juice is all it takes!

  2. Exactly! See, I knew my readers were smarter than me. Apple slices + lemon juice = avoiding browning. No need for GMOs. The simplest solutions are usually the best...

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