FeedmeScience Says

I was a Lab Rat for GMO Apples

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Site of the Agricultural Research Service’s Food Quality Laboratory

How does a gardenblogger find something to write about in December?  By jumping at the chance to taste-test produce for the USDA, that’s how, at least if it’s just 5 minutes from home.  Anyway, I was curious about the process, starting with the detailed pre-test instructions – no eating/drinking within 30 minutes of arrival.  Science, here I come!

In a brief orientation with the scientist conducting the study, the volunteers learned that that we’d be tasting apples submitted for USDA approval by a “privately owned technology company” in Canada called Okanagan Specialty Fruits.  They were “seeking to use various lab methods” to create “non-browning apple varieties.”  Hmm.

The apples we’d be tasting had been genetically altered to not turn brown after being cut or damaged, thanks to having the enzyme that causes the browning reaction turned off.  We were assured that no foreign genes had been introduced to the apples – unlike transgenics.  The nice scientist said he’d eaten dozens of them himself and hadn’t grown any new digits yet – hahahaha.  (GMO humor – gotta love it!)  And he was honest about the purpose served by such genetic manipulation – to save the growers money.  The hand-out I was given (after identifying myself as a garden writer) phrased it like this:  “The company believes that non-browning apple varieties will provide benefits to growers, packers, retailers and consumers, plus others along the value-chain.”

So on with the test!

The volunteers all had separate cubicles containing a screen that would walk us through the process and a magic box that produced little paper dishes containing numbered apple slices (all of which I figured out with the help of my fellow guinea pigs, who all seemed to be USDA employees who were old hands at this).  Above left you see a new sample ready for me, and to the side, some water and crackers to clear my palate.    On the right you see the last item to appear from the magic box – two chocolate candies.  Not expecting even that much, I was happy to see them.

In total, 12 groups of 10 volunteers would taste and judge the apples.

Curious about the results?  Honestly, they were all Golden Delicious apples, which I don’t particularly like – too soft and mealy to my taste.  So for both GMO and control slices I reported my negative findings, but I suppose that’s helpful in proving that they taste just like their (soft, mealy) parents.

The Campaign Against Non-Browning Apples

Interestingly, within days of munching down these GMO apples I began getting requests to join the fight against them!  This campaign against a non-browning GMO apple called Arctic starts with the familiar Joni Mitchell plea to “Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees.” I loved that song!  And here’s a fabulous rendition by Joni herself back in the day – 1970.

But could I be sure that this anti-GMO campaign was targeting the very same apples I’d just tested? Minor Googling revealed that yes, Arctics are the brand of apple I was tasting.  (The Okanagan company helpfully declares “We’re in the News!”  They sure are.)

So, Am I Horrified?

Well, no, because like almost everyone, I’ve been eating GMO foods for years – though unwittingly.  And I’ll dare to admit here that I’m a fence-sitter on the issue of GMOs.  But I know many of you have strong feelings about them, so fire away.

Credit for anti-GMO graphic.

Posted by

Susan Harris
on December 5, 2013 at 9:13 pm, in the category Eat This, Science Says.


  1. How many years of data on the safety of GMOs do you need? We’re already at 20 years of data from hundreds of studies with no credible evidence of harm. The consensus among scientists is in. The AMA, FDA, WHO, EASAC, and the Union of Concerned Scientists have all endorsed GM.

  2. From what I’ve heard and read, you’re right. I’ve asked every scientist I know for their take on the controversy and every one of them agrees with your conclusion. Maybe I call myself a fence-sitter because I don’t know the science myself and can’t adequately defend either position. Plus, I want to avoid heated arguments with anti-GMOers.

  3. Roundup resistance is do to a single use of the technology. I am not a fan of roundup resistant genelines. That doesn’t indict the technology in general only the specific use. It’s like saying fire is bad because you can burn people at the stake while ignoring all the beneficial uses for fire.

  4. Yes…those 20 years of studies was paid for by the very corporations that make gmo and chemcial garbage. Independent studies are squashed out and suppressed. Follow the money these people are getting and you will see the truth on this issue. I do not trust the AMA, FDA or USDA or any of the other abc branches of the govt that take huge sums from corporations to protect corporate interests instead of human interests. GMO is just playing with nature in a way that is not healthy. Humanity has survived for thousands and thousands of years without gmo. Cancer used to be rare…now with the huge amounts of chemicals and gmos entering our systems….1 in 3 people will get cancer in their lifetime.

  5. Have you considered biodynamic style farming. When you say “conventional farming” I am assuming you mean corporate style farming. I agree corporate style farming with the use of large amounts of chemicals and antibiotics is very harmful. Organic or biodynamic farming is closer to the way nature was originally. I am not sure why anyone would think organic farming is bad for the planet.??? Were you joking?

  6. I’d rather use lemon juice to keep apple slices from browning. If the whole apple is browning, it’s a sign it’s overripe and shouldn’t be eaten–artificially preventing it from turning brown won’t make it taste better.

  7. My gut reaction to GMOs is NO! NoNoNoNoNO! At tha same time, I’m scientifically fascinated. As stated above, I don’t think we know enough about genetics to be splicing & dicing & switching proteins on/off. Sure we can see benefits in some places. But I’ve learned through the years that every action has certain unintended consequences, good & bad. And some of those unintended consequences we might not see for generations, when it will be too late or almost too late to correct the error.

  8. Know what you mean about fence sitting. Some people I really respect rant
    (pun intended0 incessantly about the glysophate suppression gene. But full disclosure, I learned the whole story while working for Monsanto’s ad agency where our objective was to increase no-till practices in the South. I learned Eoundup targeted only one enzyme in the plant. In Al Gore’s 1992 Earth in the Balance, he extolled this one enzyme mode of action and that it should serve as a model for the development of new input products,

  9. Several scientists who have conducted research on Monsanto GMOs have stated they had to sign non-disclosure agreement contracts and that Monsanto approves or disapproves release of any studies. The FDA/EPA has let Monsanto’s studies show the safety of its GMOs and them approves them for public release based on those “scientific” studies.

  10. Additionally, the revolving door or government/corporate partnership is at work here also. Numerous corporate executives, who once worked at Monsanto, are now in the regulatory FDA or EPA. Numerous government officials who once were in the FDA or EPA are now Monsanto corporate executives. And then we have Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas who was a Monsanto lawyer making decisions in Monsanto cases that come to the court without recusing himself. The whole process of public safety is corrupt and controlled by money from top to bottom. All the while it is estimated 80-85% of the food in supermarkets has GMOs in them.

  11. When they will finally be available? I can’t wait to try them!
    Apple trees though are very high maintenance. They gets lots of disease so commercial apple orchards spray them on a weekly basis. But I would plant an Arctic Apple in my garden just to stick it to all the GMO fearmongers.

  12. If there is concern with safety, why not label the product? Unwillingness to freely acknowledge the fact that a product is genetically modified does not help to convince me that there are no possible risks.

  13. I disagree with the reasoning here. Would information that shows both the pros and cons of say, texting while driving, also have validity? (I’m sure a big case could be made for all the benefits there!) But what if the study was pro-texting and could be traced back to a cellphone manufacturer? You must know and trust the integrity of the source and check their sources. And always ask: who stands to benefit financially from this “information”?

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