Posted: Thursday, July 15, 2010 9:00 AM
It should come as no surprise that the development of a way to grow apples that won't brown when sliced would encounter opposition.
It is, after all, progress. And progress is something some folks oppose on principle. Precautionary principle, that is.
This principle holds that no new development or activity should be allowed until the proponents can prove that no damage will occur to the environment or public health. The principle has taken hold in Europe and in some quarters of the United States, particularly among environmental and health-advocacy groups.
Under the precautionary principle, many of the millions of technological advances that have occurred since the dawn of time would not pass muster.
Fire? Forget about it. Think of all the damage fire causes every day.
The wheel? Nope, not even close. Where there are wheels, there are carts, wagons, cars, trucks and, inevitably, roadkill.
Electricity? This is the most dangerous of all developments. Electricity causes health and societal problems ranging from electrocution to obesity, because people sit too long in front of their television sets.
And the internal combustion engine? So what if it has advanced society as much as any other invention, it pollutes the air.
Compared to those "dangers" to society, a genetically modified apple that doesn't brown when sliced would seem to be a mighty small threat to humankind. Yet, someone, somewhere will no doubt find an eager lawyer who will argue that all of the effects are unknown and, because of that, apples must be left to turn brown naturally.
A Canadian company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, has petitioned the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to deregulate the trait that stops the browning. Originally developed in Australia for potatoes, the technique involves "silencing" the protein that causes browning.
Groups that oppose genetically modifying crops worry that the technique may make the apples more susceptible to disease or pests. They don't know that for a fact, but they will make the company prove beyond all reasonable doubt that it doesn't.
Time and again, groups have sued over technological advances such as genetic engineering. These suits don't seem aimed at protecting the environment so much as at stopping progress. And it's all in the name of the precautionary principle.
In fact, the rush toward regulating "greenhouse gases" as a way to address the climate change theory is based on the precautionary principle.
This is not to diminish the real concerns that revolve around the development of genetically modified crops and other scientific advances. Scientists have, and will continue to, study the effects of every development. That is as it should be.
But to presume that every development is bad until proven otherwise seems to be an idea out of the Dark Ages.