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GMO apple only a slice of the bigger issue

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The prospect of a genetically modified apple arriving at the marketplace has many in the industry concerned because of the potential reaction from activist groups opposed to all GMOs.

We cannot fault the folks in the U.S. apple industry for voicing concerns about the genetically modified apple a Canadian entrepreneur has developed. The USDA and its Canadian counterpart could approve the apple sometime next year.

The apple resists browning after it is sliced. This would allow restaurants and other food service companies to serve more sliced apples without using preservatives.

As far as it goes, the idea is OK, but many within the apple industry see a GMO apple as opening the industry to a broadside attack from GMO opponents.

The problem is not so much with the apple, but with the GMO opponents, many of whom appear to be a part of an agricultural Flat Earth Society that opposes most types of farming developed since 1950. In their American Gothic viewpoint, they attack any individual or corporation associated with genetically modified crops. They do this without benefit of facts that support their scare tactics. They make assertions on the Internet that “no one has proved that GMOs are safe” despite the fact that they have been on the market since the 1990s without any health-associated problems. None of their theories have been subjected to peer reviewed studies.

A continuing effort among activists is to stop the advance of science by getting rid of GMO ingredients in food through labeling initiatives in places like Washington state and California. Next up is a second run at an initiative in Oregon to label some food with GMO ingredients. Oregonians rejected a similar labeling initiative 11 years ago. The name of the new initiative’s sponsoring organization is telling: GMO Free Oregon.

What these groups don’t say is two labeling options are already available to distinguish genetically modified foods from those that contain no GMO ingredients. The USDA organic certification guarantees that non-GMO seed was used to grow the crops, as does the Non-GMO Project Verified Seal. Anyone wishing to avoid foods containing GMOs can look for either of those labels in any grocery store.

In light of the vocal opponents who attack all things GMO, the apple industry members worry that they might be swept up in the vitriol if the new GMO apple is approved. Apples are the symbol of a healthful lifestyle, and to have the anti-GMO crowd, with it pitchforks and torches, start spraying the Internet with baseless accusations about all apples should give anyone pause.

That scenario is especially daunting because the GMO apple represents a small niche of the industry. Some in the industry counsel that they should withhold their support for a GMO apple until one with drought resistance or some other more useful and valuable trait is developed.

The flaw in that argument is that GMO opponents are not against some genetically modified crops. They are against all of them. They do not differentiate between GMO apples and GMO sugar beets — or any other GMO crops. They want them all banned and appear ready to keep pushing for that until the marketplace drowns out their voice.

When it comes to GMOs, we continue to advocate choice — for consumers and for farmers.



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