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GMO apples, potatoes hitting store shelves

March 7, 2017

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are back in the news.

 

That’s because some genetically modified produce is heading for store shelves.

GMO apples and potatoes will be in Midwest produce departments this month.

It’s the start of a 2017 rollout of these types of items. And should provide some food for grocery aisle debate.

GMOs are created in a laboratory when genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal.

The foreign genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals, or even humans.

 

To eat or not to eat?

If you don’t want to eat GMO food, said Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association, you have one clear option.

“Organic is one’s only defense,” she told Healthline.

Food that is certified non-GMO is actually another option for concerned shoppers.

“Until recently no fresh produce were GMOs. It was mainly soybeans and corn, which was not available as fresh products,” Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst of the Center for Food Safety, told Healthline.

The vast majority of corn, soy, canola, and sugar beets grown in the United States is now genetically engineered.

These items are often used as ingredients in processed foods. Tests have shown that GMOs are present in many packaged foods, such as breakfast cereals, chips, baking mixes, and protein bars.

 

Does that present a health danger?

“The contention that GMOs pose no risks to human health can’t be supported by studies that have measured a time frame that is too short to determine the effects of exposure over a lifetime,” said Dr. Robert Gould, president of the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility, in a 2015 interview with Consumer Reports.

 

Coming to a store near you

Now GMO apples and potatoes will be in grocery store produce bins.

A GMO apple looks like any other except for one salient feature. It won’t turn brown. The company has turned off some of the genes that make them change color.

Here’s the catch, according to Hanson, “The apples are sitting in the store looking white [inside], but may be covered with microbes not covered by genetic engineering.”

He cited food industry arguments that a lot of fruit goes to waste because it turns brown.

“Maybe that’s a good thing because of those other microbes,” Hanson said. “Does it still taste fresh? I don’t know. It’s not that difficult to cut up an apple.”

Potatoes are on their way as well, probably in the form of chips or other processed food, Hanson noted.

Traditionally, apples were preserved by being sprayed with something acidic, such as lemon juice.

Hanson doesn’t know what is done to the Arctic Apples, the name of the supplier. It’s a division of Intrexon, which describes itself as designing biologically-based consumer solutions.

 

Look for the label

Labeling of GMO food remains a hot-button issue.

Not surprisingly, the food industry doesn’t like labels.

When Vermont passed a labeling law last year, the industry responded by backing what they considered to be a weaker national law. Hanson noted that law precluded states such as Vermont from legislating on their own.

However, that action has led to an unexpected consequence.

The new labeling law will require regulations to determine how these rules will work, who will provide oversight, and so on.

But the Trump administration has announced that for every new regulation produced, two old ones must be tossed.

Where that leaves them, nobody knows, Hanson said.

“Nothing will change immediately. We may have a new law on the kind of labeling, or it may be put on hold,” he said.

“It may be labeling lite,” he added, half joking. “I’d prefer to see something straightforward, like you have on a Snickers bar. But we’re not going to get that from most food companies.”

Hanson said good labeling might be something small printed on the package that a consumer could scan with a phone, “while they’re shepherding three kids through the supermarket.”

Baden-Mayer takes it a step further, noting that the administration will be limited on what regulations it wants on GMO crops.

 

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