How to create unhealthy apples

March 2014

Picture of different colours and varieties of apples
Image Creative Commons
Ever thought of the humble apple as a staple health-food?  Not in the USA it seems. 

Exports of American apples (and pears) to Europe have dropped 73% over the last five years.  The culprit lies in the high levels of two pesticides added to wax coatings to prevent 'scald'.


'Scald' is a post-harvest storage disorder of apples resulting in discoloured patches on the fruits' skin due to damage and death within the surface layer of cells. The cause seems to be long-term storage, especially under unsuitably humid conditions. Similar-looking post-harvest blemishes may arise due to pesticide treatments, sun, or friction damage in the case of very ripe fruit.
Now, there's another problem looming on the other side of the Atlantic.  Two varieties of GM 'Arctic' apples which don't turn brown when damaged looks set to be approved by the USDA. 

Concerns have already been raised regarding these novel apples: their artificial DNA produces double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) which could have a plethora of unpredictable health effects [1], while the inability to create brown flesh is likely to impair the fruits' defences against pathogens [2]. These risks are sitting in an existing background of up to 42 agri-chemicals of varying toxic potential found in apples.

Besides this cocktail of problems, it seems the Arctic apple contains an anti-biotic resistance marker gene against kanamycin, an antibiotic used to treat a wide variety of infections. The marker gene can confer cross-resistance against a whole range of related, clinically important, anti-biotics. Such drugs are especially important in severe life-threatening infections because they don't damage the bacterial cell wall. Other classes of anti-biotics induce a damaging release of bacterial toxins into an already sick body, and can make a bad problem worse.

According to US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at least two million Americans fall sick every year and about 23,000 die from anti-biotic-resistant infections. The food industry is quick to blame hospital hygiene, over-prescription by doctors, and widespread use of anti-biotics in intensively-reared animals. However, the artificial kanamycin-resistance genes in Arctic apples will end up in intimate contact with millions of different, potentially pathogenic, microbial species inside your gastro-intestinal tract.  

Most GM plants are subject to extensive back-crossing after the gene transfer, to dilute out and hopefully eliminate the inevitable alterations and disruption in the plants' genome (Note. With an appropriately designed artificial DNA construct, back-crossing can also be used to eliminate an unwanted marker gene which is no long required).  

In the case of apples, however, seeds are never used: a single successful tree is produced whose branched are then grafted onto established apple tree trunks. This way, no correction of DNA alterations (normally achieved during sexual reproduction) ever happens.


In other words, the Arctic apples we will be eating are crude, uncorrected, first-stage GM creations, warts and all.

And novel qualities in the GM pollen which ends up in honey are anyone's guess.

Described by one commentator as “perhaps the most frivolous GMO yet”, Arctic apples seem to be designed to disguise badly picked, carelessly handled, aged apples. These qualities are of course a boon for the food-processing industry's apple-containing products and bottom-line, but are they a boon to our health? The 'five-a-day' message just got sinister.

[1]  RNA MODIFIED FOOD - July 2013
[2]  FRANKEN APPLES - July 2013
GMO Arctic Apples Antibiotic Gene Set to Destroy US Apples Exports, Sustainable Pulse 11.01.14
Sabrina Tavernise, Antibiotics in Animals Tied to Risk of Human Infection, New York Times 27.01.14
Is GM quicker than conventional breeding? GM Watch, 23.12.13

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