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Do we need GM apples?

I admit: I get a little crabby when I assemble an apple-and-cheese plate for a gathering of friends only to find that the apple wedges have morphed into an unappetizing shade of brown in a matter of minutes. So I was intrigued when I heard that Okanagan Specialty Fruits, a Canadian biotechnology company, asked the U.S Department of Agriculture to approve a genetically modified apple that won't brown soon after slicing.

To make its case, the company says that the type of genetic modification used on the apples doesn't introduce a new gene into the plant. Rather, scientists simply alter an existing apple gene to create the non-browning effect.

Sounds harmless, right?

Not so fast. Although the new apple might save retailers money because they'll no longer need to employ traditional methods (vitamin C or lemon juice) to prevent the browning of sliced apples served at the deli, the Huffington Post points out that replanting a traditional orchard with GM apples would cost farmers anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000 per acre, which, I suspect, would lead to a rise in apple prices at the store. Is the tradeoff worth it?

GM opponents also say that the lack of browning may deceive someone into thinking the apple is fresh when it's not. In other words, these botox apples look better but don't necessarily taste better.

Others fear cross-pollination between GM apples and non-GM apples. And then there's the concern that these apples won't be labeled as GM. Both worthy worries.

Plus, if history is any lesson of how a do-good technology can go wrong, let's look at the example of Roundup Ready seeds, which now are used for the majority of soybean and corn crops in the United States. These GM seeds, which allow farmers to use Roundup herbicide without harming crops, have led to the rise of new resistant superweeds. Even the venerable New York Times reported on this disaster-in-the-making and the potential result: lower crop yields and higher food prices.

And, really, do we need these apples? Sure, they may shine on the appetizer table at my next dinner party. But in the bigger picture, are they going to improve the quality of life for the masses, save the planet from environmental disaster or feed the world? Do they even taste better? I seriously doubt it. Let's keep GM apples off grocery store shelves by writing to the USDA to oppose their approval.

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