The world’s first genetically modified apple that doesn’t turn brown when cut or bruised has been approved for growth and consumption by the United States government. The “Arctic” apples were developed by a Canadian biotech company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits. The company argues that this will help prevent food waste and make companies that serve sliced apples ditch their non-browning chemicals that keep the fruit from turning brown.
“Right now, to make fresh-cut apple slices and put them in the bag, 35 or 40 percent of the cost is the anxioxidant treatment,” says Okanagan president Neal Carter. “So you could make a fresh-cut apple slice 30 percent cheaper.”
Apples brown when you slice them because oxygen is introduced to the flesh of the fruit. The apple produces an enxyme called polyphenol oxidase, or PPO, which reacts to certain ingredients in the tissue called phenolic compounds, which causes the browning to occur. Okanagan scientists engineered these apples to simply produce less PPO, but instead of removing those genes from the apples, scientists added extra copies of the PPO genes, which switched most of them off.
This doesn’t prevent the apples from rotting, but the immediate browning is halted.
The company hopes to satisfy people concerned with GMOs by using genes from the apple itself in this genetic modification, but environmental groups have been quick to criticize. Pressure is already building on food companies to reject these apples unless they’re labeled as genetically modified.
I think at the end of the day, the question is this: did we really need to modify apples to not brown? Is that really something a biotech needed to spend nearly 20 years working on? Just one more example of our culture deciding that nature isn’t good enough, and that it’s up to us to make it better. I feel like there’s a story about this kind of thing in the Bible. Right?
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