Organic apple growers not threatened by GE apples but impractical re-defining of genetic ‘contamination’ in organic standards

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

There is an interesting new “GMO” apple nearing approval in the US and in Canada called the “Arctic Apple.” Certain genes in these apples are turned off so that the fruit doesn’t  express the enzymes that make the apples turn brown after cutting. I think this is a useful, consumer-oriented trait. Predictably, there are opponents for this sort of scientific innovation. 

I want to specifically address a particular objection to the commercialization of this technology – the concept that the growing of these “GMO” apples could put the local organic apple industry at risk of becoming “genetically contaminated.” I absolutely agree that the organic industry is at risk, but not from the Arctic Apples.  They are at risk from this new definition of “contamination” driven by the “defenders” of organic, which would unintentionally classify all organic apples as being particularly “contaminated.” 

The “contamination” scenario is based on the potential movement of pollen from flowers of the Arctic Apples to apple flowers in organic orchards.  It is useful to consider this from a biological perspective. What we are really talking about here is not a new phenomenon associated with a “GM Crop.”  This is about normal plant sex.  

Apple flowers are not “self-fruitful” meaning that for an apple flower to be successfully fertilized, the pollen has to come from a genetically distinct apple –  usually carried by a bee.  One efficient way to foster this DNA exchange is to graft some branches of crabapples onto some of the trees in an orchard or to simply grow some crabapples within the orchard.  The bees visit those flowers and carry the pollen to flowers of the desired variety. The only part of the resulting apples that contains the DNA from the crabapple is the embryo portion of the seed.  All of the rest of the apple that we eat only has the genes of the intended variety. Thus, even though apples might be pollinated from marginally edible crabapples, we have never considered them to be “contaminated.” If that sort of DNA in seeds is redefined as “contamination,” then all apples are contaminated with the DNA from a different apple variety or a crabapple. 

If there is ever any problem for organic growers because of the commercialization of the Arctic Apple, that injury will be entirely self-inflicted by the wing of the organic community that makes the rules.  It will be the result of a state of mind, not any rational risk.  It will also go against well-established precedents for organic. The organic apple growers of British Columbia are not threatened in any rational way by the potential commercialization of genetically engineered apples.  The only threat comes from those who want to re-define genetic contamination in a way which makes no practical sense.  This doesn’t serve the interests of consumers, nor does it really serve the interests of the organic growers.

Read the full, original article: Are Organic Apples At Risk of Being Redefined As Contaminated?

Related article:  EU Parliament, bucking EU Commission, opposes authorization of five new GMOs
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