Mandatory labeling is misleading

Even with California’s Proposition 37 failing last November (for good reason), mandatory labeling of biotech foods remains a hot topic. New labeling initiatives are underway in Washington, OregonNew Mexico and several other states. While some of the language in these initiatives differs from that of Prop-37, the true motivation behind them is the same: unnecessarily scaring consumers away from biotech foods.

While we support transparency with consumers, which is what the “Right to Know” camp boasts is their noble purpose, simply slapping a “GMO” label onto food does not provide any meaningful information. What’s even worse, for a campaign centered on the idea of public education, they supply a disappointing lack of factual information; WA state’s I-522 even gets the basic definition for genetically engineered foods incorrect on their campaign website!

We at Okanagan Specialty Fruits are often asked for our thoughts on the labeling debate since Arctic® apples will be one of the only biotech foods to be voluntarily labeled. Why are we doing this? First and foremost, we are committed to transparency. We believe that consumers have the right to decide for themselves if they are interested in nonbrowning apples. A label clearly designating truly nonbrowning apples as “Arctic” will make it easy for consumers to discern their choice (our research shows most will seek out Arctic® apples!).

Interestingly, a 2012 survey asked a random sample of 750 U.S. adults what types of food they are avoiding and what additional food labels they’d like. In response to these open-ended questions, zero said they were avoiding biotech foods and only 3 percent said they would like to see biotech foods labeled. A similar UK survey published last week found that just 2 percent of consumers looked for information about biotech-enhanced content when buying food products.

Regarding current labeling practices, the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) administers a comprehensive food labeling law which ensures consumers are informed of a products’ nutritional content and potential health risks. The FDA engages in a voluntary review process that evaluates biotech products, but deregulated biotech crops – meaning those that make it to market – are deemed similar to their conventional counterparts. As Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack agrees, this sameness between conventional and biotech crops means labels in nutritional content or health warnings aren’t necessary. Further, for the minority who truly want to avoid all biotech foods, though there’s no evidence-backed reason to do so, can always choose certified organic.

For products like Arctic® apples, there is a noticeable value-added trait that impacts consumers, so it makes perfect sense to label them. An “Arctic” label provides real information because anyone who doesn’t already know how they differ from conventional apples can easily find out all the specific details they want. A “GMO” label, on the other hand, would be completely useless and fear inducing, just like all these mandatory labeling initiatives.

About Joel Brooks

Growing up in the Okanagan, Joel had the opportunity to experience apple growing first hand, a background that lead him to his role as Product & Special Projects Manager. Joel feels privileged to work with such great people towards a goal that’s so easy to get behind – helping people to eat more apples.

Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I take offense to the following: “unnecessarily scaring consumers away from biotech foods” Wanting REAL food instead of geneticlly modified food should our right. I am glad you will label your apples but I would prefer them banned 

    • Joel

      We completely agree that consumers have the right to select any food they choose, one of the reasons we will be voluntarily labeling. Biotech foods are no less “real” than conventional or organic food, though. Arctic fruit, for example, contains no proteins that aren’t present in their conventional counterparts, have the same composition and nutrition, and grow in the orchard just the same as well.

      Modern day crops are the result of human-driven breeding in order to select desirable traits. Biotech crops are but another innovative step towards increasing the efficiency of our food supply, and fear-tactics that paint them as unsafe when the science says otherwise can have very unfortunate effects.

      • Marcel

        This biological intervention is the one step, that is one step too far. Definitly every single person that I know, and probably many that i don’t know would agree.

        You think you turned off the gene that turns an apple brown. What you really did, is take a stab in the dark, until you hit the one, that gave you the result you wanted. Who knows what else you screwed with. You might have an object that looks, tastes, feels and smells like an apple, but since you hacked the main code, you don’t really have an apple.

        Labeling a product with the letters ‘GMO’ would not be misleading and would not scare me. Instead it would just make me not buy it. Giving it a different NAME is just one way of tricking people into buying a product, that they normally wouldn’t buy. So don’t try to tell people in this website that you are transparent!! I’m just lucky that I found your website, to read what other words to look out for and not buy: ‘ARCTIC’.

        Your modification would not occur naturally. This indeed would make your so-called apple much less than ‘REAL’.

        Thank you for ‘voluntarily’ giving your creation a NAME.

        My request to you: Please be as transparent as you say you are and add the letters ‘GMO’ right below your brand name ARCTIC on your objects label. Now the consumer can really make a choice.

        Oh and don’t try to get rid of the seeds. Seeds are needed to grow a tree.

        • Joel

          Hi Marcel, thanks for sharing your comments!

          The transformation process for Arctic apples is most definitely not a shot in the dark – we target the exact genes that are responsible for enzymatic browning. After making this change, we have sequenced all 750 million(!) base pairs of the apple’s genome, just to confirm that we’ve done exactly what we mean to. The results? No other changes besides lower producation of polyphenol oxidase, the enzyme responsible for browning, were made. There are no novel proteins in our fruit and they have the same composition and nutrition as well.

          This being the case, Arctic apples are just as real, safe and healthy as their conventional counterpart, which is one of the key reasons a general “GMO” label provides no meaningful information.

          As an aside, it may interest you to know that seeds are not actually used in commercial apple orchards (even organic) as apple trees are now propagated by grafting. On one of the many innovations that help apple growers like us ensure that everyone’s favorite fruits have predictable quality and taste!

          • Marcel

            Hi Joel and team, first of all thanks for commenting back and for posting my concerns.

            I am aware that seeds are not used in commercial apple farming, and i’m aware of grafting and cloning. The reason I would like you to make sure the seeds stay in the apple is so that you, I and everybody else in the future have the ability to grow an apple tree from it in their yard if they choose to do so.

            Ok, so you are saying changing this gene is not a stab in the dark. I definitely believe that your team would try their best to not modify anything else besides the one and only feature which you are interested in.

            Did you ever think of why an apple turns brown?? There might just be a valid reason for it. Evolution made the apple turn into a fruit that turns brown when cut or bruised for a reason. Maybe you think you know exactly why it turns brown. You then think it is perfectly safe to just go into the apple gene code and switch off that silly feature. However, this might not be a silly feature at all, but a necessary thing to sustain the life of the apple plant itself. You and I both don’t have prove for or against this. But I can say for sure that you don’t know that the browing of the apple isn’t required for something essential.

            Lets assume you really only changed that one thing and you are confident that nothing else has been tempered with. How can you possibly predict the long term effect on this particular change? How can you say that it is perfectly safe? For example, how can you know for sure that the enzyme you’ve turned off is not something essential to human health.

            Or worse, how can you be 100% sure that the lack of this enzyme does not create some sort of new toxic effect? Maybe a breeding ground for some new bacteria, or just some new chemical composition that would normally be eliminated with the enzyme that you and your team decided to turn off. Maybe this new compound starts collecting in your body and you will only find out about it in 10 or 20 years when it is too late.

            This might be an extreme case, but you cannot tell me or anybody else with 100% confidence that this or a milder version of it will not happen. (this is definitly where you and your team are taking a stab in the dark.)

            All because you might think a bit of brown on an apple is unpleasant too look at and the kids don’t want to eat it.

            I’m sure your team tested the apple, and you yourself probably ate them, possibly let your kids try them. That would be entirely your choice. I will not take that risk with my family. Even though in your eyes it might be a low risk or even no risk. If I would believe this, I would put my health in your hands based on your research and opinion which is backed by the drive to make a profit.

            New inventions can always be a risk, and without taking any risk we could not progress at all. I realize that. However, I believe this particular step is opening pandoras box. There are 1000’s of other things to improve farming technology that researchers can put their minds on.

            By the way, i did not talk about a general ‘GMO’ label only. I mentioned to put the letters ‘GMO’ right below your brand name ‘ARCTIC’ on the same label. This would completely be meaningful information, since it would exactly state what this apple is. So it would not be deceiving as it is now without those three letters. If you really think people want this apple, you should not have a problem labeling it for what it is.

            Marcel

      • Joel

        Wild BananaJust wanted to add to this to provide a visualization for what wild versions of produce look like. This banana could be called more “real” or “natural” than what we have in the grocery store today, but it’s FAR less nutritious and even less appetizing! Humans have been improving the food we eat for centuries and biotechnology is just one more means of achieving a safe, plentiful food supply.

  2. Betty Jo

    I think you are great for voluntarily explaing how Artic Apple is made.  My concern in GMO foods is Monsanto’s stated business mission is to control 95% of the seed supply and their obsession with pesticides.

    They kill off all insects, beneficial and not and call me sentimental but I love Monarch butterflies and find their migration miraculous.  If Monsanto has their way they will go the way of the Passenger Pigeon.

    • Joel

      Betty, thanks for your comment! We try to make it our practice not to comment on companies we are not affiliated with, including Monsanto. But that said, Monsanto and many of the larger ag-biotech companies have been making a concerted effort to engage more in open communication recently. I’d suggest submitting your questions/concerns to http://www.GMOAnswers.com to see what they themselves have to say!

  3. Josh

    My mouth is watering just reading your articles. Cannot wait to get these in my local stores! Good job on your achievement and I hope you make bushels of money!

  4. Jim

    Some day try this experiment:

    1. Cut an apple in half with a steel knife and set the two halves to the side.

    2. Cut an apple in half with a ceramic knife and set the two halves to the side.

    3. Record the elapsed time to brown in both cases.

    4. Be amazed.

    • Joel

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for your comment! Apples sliced with high quality ceramic knives do indeed brown more slowly than those cut with steel knives – often by a dramatic amount. However, while apples and other fruits cut with steel blades brown more quickly, a ceramic blade, unfortunately, does not stop browning altogether.

      Much like coating an apple’s exposed flesh with lemon juice or other solutions, using a ceramic knife is a great little trick to slow/decrease browning, but it will still brown from oxidization. That said, it’s definitely a tip worth knowing for consumers who do have ceramic knives in their kitchens – thanks for sharing!

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