Originally posted Feb. 12, 2015
UPDATE (March 20, 2015): The FDA has concluded that the genetically engineered apples are “as safe and nutritious” as their conventional counterparts.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) today announced that it has approved two varieties of apples that will produce much lower levels of an enzyme that ordinarily causes the fruit to turn an unappealing shade of brown after it is sliced. It’s the latest example of a plant produced through biotechnology (also known as genetically engineered or, imprecisely, as “GMO”) that yields benefits for consumers, coming on the heels of the approval of potatoes that will produce lower levels of a naturally occurring substance called acrylamide, which has begun raising concerns about potential health impacts if consumed at high levels.
And yet, some recent books and media coverage, including an article in the March issue of Consumer Reports, continue to overlook the upside of biotechnology, while dwelling on hypotheticals or questioning the safety of genetically engineered foods, despite the overwhelming body of science and consensus among experts and regulators that such concerns are unfounded. (We wrote recently about the perplexing gap between what top scientists and the public believe about the safety of some technologies such as biotech.)
The IFIC Foundation has just produced a new video that provides science-based information on food biotechnology, along with expert physician interviews and survey findings–among them, that consumers are quite willing to accept foods produced through biotechnology when they become aware of the types of benefits that unfortunately are left out of the discussion far too often. Please watch, and pass it along!
APHIS in the links above uses the terms “nonregulated” or “deregulated” regarding the new apples and potatoes. Some opponents seize on those words to imply that genetically engineered foods are somehow unregulated, or less regulated, than their counterparts produced by other means, when the exact opposite is true.
APHIS’s approval process, which takes years, ensures that “enough data has been gathered to demonstrate the new crop variety is not a plant pest, poses no threat to agriculture or the environment, and should no longer be regulated by USDA.” APHIS has produced a brief video explaining that process. (APHIS’s document explaining the process for applicants is 53 pages long, not exactly the cursory review that some would have us believe.) Crops produced using biotechnology are also subject to strict FDA and EPA regulations.
Kevin Folta of the University of Florida has produced a handy chart that compares different methods of plant breeding and the various regulatory processes that are involved with each. After reading it, it’s hard to believe that any other foods, including those produced organically, are so closely and rigorously scrutinized for their safety as genetically engineered foods.
You might also be interested in reading Maryland farmer and registered dietitian Jennie Schmidt‘s account of the step-by-step food production process and the implications of labeling foods produced using biotechnology, as well as why it’s such a concern that Consumer Reports is stepping outside its area of expertise to advocate its food agenda.