Engineered apples refers to the development of genetically modified apple varieties. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are plants or animals whose DNA have been manipulated to produce certain desired effects -- insect or weed resistance in plants, for example. Proponents of GMO technology argue that genetic engineering is necessary for feeding the world's starving populations, but opponents rebut that GMOs are a dangerous threat to the environment and human health.
There are more than 7,000 varieties of apples, but only 100 are produced in the United States. According to a 2006 GMO Compass article, no varieties of genetically engineered apples have been approved for commercial production in the world, and the production of genetically engineered apples is a long way off. However, there are numerous field trials under way in the U.S. and UK. This means the most popular varieties of apples, such as red delicious, fuji, braeburn, cameo and others, are not engineered.
In 2010 it was reported that the Canadian fruit company Okanagan had developed a genetically modified apple that wouldn't brown. Some types of fruit brown as a result of a chemical reaction between oxygen and an iron-containing compound. Browning is a problem in commercial food industries where fresh, sliced apples are served because of apples' short shelf life. Browned apples don't sell well, so a genetically altered apple that doesn't t brown would be beneficial to certain businesses.
Apple crops are subject to a number of diseases, including fire blight, apple scab and powdery mildew. All can result in costly industry loses, and even though apples have been bred to resist diseases, they cannot fully avoid infection under conditions that favor the spread of disease. For this reason, genetic research has found that certain genes, when transferred to apples, produce substances that either destroy pathogens or block infection. If engineered apples proved healthy and safe, they could largely eliminate the need for fungicides and other chemical spraying.
While the benefits of genetic engineering make the process appear to be an easy sell, there is mounting opposition to GMOs. In the case of the non-browning apple, opposition centered not on the potential health effects but on potential risks to the apple market. Arguments against GMOs more broadly focus on the unknown health effects and cross-contamination with non-GMO crops.
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