The deadline is looming for the public to comment on an application pending before the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the first genetically modified apple engineered not to brown when sliced.
The comment period for the genetically modified organism (GMO), called the Arctic apple, is open until Dec. 9. The public can submit comments online, as well as see the Federal Register notice with links to the supporting documents.
Until now, most GMOs have been engineered to withstand pesticides or insects. Some organic proponents are questioning why the genetic modification is necessary, as it only serves a cosmetic need and could mask overripe or bruised apples.
Fast-food giant McDonald’s and leading baby food manufacturer Gerber already have confirmed they do not plan to sell or use the Arctic apple.
These food companies join major apple growing associations, including the U.S. Apple Association, the Northwest Horticultural Council (which represents Washington apple growers, producers of more than 60 percent of the apples in the U.S.), British Columbia Fruit Growers Association and other grower groups. They disapprove of the Arctic apple because of the negative impact the fruit could have on farmers growing organic and non-GMO apples and the apple industry as a whole.
The growers fear the GMO apples will contaminate their farms and, as a result, cause them to lose their organic certification, putting them in financial peril and decreasing the amount of organic apples in the marketplace.
The USDA recently posted its Environmental Assessment and Plant Pest Risk Assessment, which did not acknowledge the threat the Arctic apples represents to organic apple farmers. These assessments also do not examine the long-term effects of the GMO apples on the environment and population, although the developers of the apples claim they have 10 years of field studies that show no negative effects.
A second comment period is now open for people to discuss these Assessment Reports. The first comment period closed on Sept. 11 and received 1,975 comments, mostly negative, according to California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Few of the comments were from growers or people with more specific knowledge of the biology of an apple orchard.
CCOF and other organizations such as the Organic Consumers Association are urging people who are concerned about GMOs to submit comments to the USDA. CCOF offers these bullet points to use in comments:
- Ten years of study is not enough time to evaluate a perennial crop like an apple tree.
- All the data used in the conclusions of the reports is from the petitioner for the Arctic apples. There appears to be no independent, third-party exploration of such subjects as the potential effects on non-target organisms or the threat of pollen transfer into organic orchards.
- No specific data is given in the reports about what happens to bees and other pollinators who ingest genetically engineered pollen over time.
- The Environmental Assessment states: "Organic farmers will not be substantially affected by a determination of non-regulated status of GD743 and GS784 apple" (page 37, section 4.2.3). The reason given is that there is no threshold for genetically engineered presence in organic regulations. This explanation ignores the potential effects on pollinators and organic markets if contamination is picked up in testing and places the full burden on organic growers for borders and pollination control strategies.
- Some groups representing apple growers, such as the California Apple Commission, do not support the Arctic apple because it will bring negative publicity to apples in general and damage the apple markets.
- Section 2.6 (page 11) of the Environmental Assessment recommends no isolation distances or geographic restrictions because there is no plant pest risk from these apples and so the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has no authority to set one. This is an important point to bring to the USDA because this type of GMO is out of the realm of APHIS authority but still needs to be regulated by the USDA. While there may be no pest impacts, there likely will be impacts on pollinators, wildlife that feed on apples and nearby organic growers.
- The purpose of the non-browning trait is so the apple does not decay as quickly. Not only can this be used to disguise otherwise inferior fruit quality, but it may have secondary long-term side effects similar to other preservatives and these have not been studied.
- In animal studies, other GMOs have been linked to numerous negative health problems, such as immune damage, tumors and lowered nutrition absorption.
The Arctic apple is among many new genetically engineered foods in the pipeline for approval, including salmon, a potato and commodity crops (corn and soy) engineered to withstand more powerful pesticides. Dozens of genetically engineered fish and other animals including pigs, cows and chickens are also in development stages.
“New unlabeled, risky GMOs could enter the produce aisles and meat counters at our grocery stores in the near future," said Lisa Archer, director of the Food & Technology Program at Friends of the Earth. "That’s why it’s so important to win labeling now and put in place rigorous health and safety standards for genetically engineered foods.”
Visit EcoWatch’s GMO page for more related news on this topic.
By Gwen Ranniger
Fertility issues are on the rise, and new literature points to ways that your environment may be part of the problem. We've rounded up some changes you can make in your life to promote a healthy reproductive system.
Infertility and Environmental Health: The Facts<ul> <li>Sperm count is declining steeply, significantly, and continuously in Western countries, with no signs of tapering off. Erectile dysfunction is on the rise, and women are facing increasing rates of miscarriage and difficulty conceiving.</li><li>Why? A huge factor is our environmental health. Hormones (particularly testosterone and estrogen) are what make reproductive function possible, and our hormones are increasingly being negatively affected by harmful, endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonplace in the modern world—in our homes, foods, and lifestyles.</li></ul>
What You Can Do About It<p>It should be noted that infertility can be caused by any number of factors, including medical conditions that cannot be solved with a simple change at home.</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are struggling with infertility, our hearts and sympathies are with you. Your pain is validated and we hope you receive answers to your struggles.</em></p><p>Read on to discover our tips to restore or improve reproductive health by removing harmful habits and chemicals from your environment.</p>
Edit Your Health<ul><li>If you smoke, quit! Smoking is toxic, period. If someone in your household smokes, urge them to quit or institute a no-smoking ban in the house. It is just as important to avoid secondhand smoke.</li><li>Maintain a healthy weight. Make sure your caloric intake is right for your body and strive for moderate exercise.</li><li>Eat cleanly! Focus on whole foods and less processed meals and snacks. Studies have found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet is linked to increased fertility.</li><li>Minimize negative/constant stress—or find ways to manage it. Hobbies such as meditation or yoga that encourage practiced breathing are great options to reduce the physical toll of stress.</li></ul>
Edit Your Home<p>We spend a lot of time in our homes—and care that what we bring into them will not harm us. You may not be aware that many commonly found household items are sources of harmful, endocrine-disrupting compounds. Read on to find steps you can take—and replacements you should make—in your home.</p><p><strong>In the Kitchen</strong></p><ul> <li>Buy organic, fresh, unprocessed foods whenever possible. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/clean-grocery-shopping-guide-2648563801.html" target="_blank">Read our grocery shopping guide for more tips about food.</a></li><li>Switch to glass, ceramics, or stainless steel for food storage: plastics often contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that affect fertility. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/bpa-pollution-2645493129.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Learn more about the dangers of plastic here.</a></li><li>Ban plastic from the microwave. If you have a plastic splatter cover, use paper towel, parchment paper, or an upside-down plate instead.</li><li>Upgrade your cookware: non-stick may make life easier, but it is made with unsafe chemical compounds that seep into your food. Cast-iron and stainless steel are great alternatives.</li><li>Filter tap water. Glass filter pitchers are an inexpensive solution; if you want to invest you may opt for an under-the-sink filter.</li><li>Check your cleaning products—many mainstream products are full of unsafe chemicals. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Check out our guide to safe cleaning products for more info</a>.</li></ul><p><strong>In the Bathroom </strong></p><ul> <li>Check the labels on your bathroom products: <em>fragrance-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free</em> and organic labels are all great signs. You can also scan the ingredients lists for red-flag chemicals such as: triclosan, parabens, and dibutyl phthalate. Use the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/" target="_blank">EWG Skin Deep database</a> to vet your personal products.</li><li>Ditch the vinyl shower curtain—that new shower curtain smell is chemical-off gassing. Choose a cotton or linen based curtain instead.</li><li>Banish air fresheners—use natural fresheners (an open window, baking soda, essential oils) instead.</li></ul><p><strong>Everywhere Else</strong></p><ul><li>Remove wall-to-wall carpet. If you've been considering wood or tile, here's your sign: many synthetic carpets can emit harmful chemicals for years. If you want a rug, choose wool or plant materials such as jute or sisal.</li><li>Prevent dust build-up. Dust can absorb chemicals in the air and keep them lingering in your home. Vacuum rugs and wipe furniture, trim, windowsills, fans, TVs, etc. Make sure to have a window open while you're cleaning!</li><li>Leave shoes at the door! When you wear your shoes throughout the house, you're tracking in all kinds of chemicals. If you like wearing shoes inside, consider a dedicated pair of "indoor shoes" or slippers.</li><li>Clean out your closet—use cedar chips or lavender sachets instead of mothballs, and use "green" dry-cleaning services over traditional methods. If that isn't possible, let the clothes air out outside or in your garage for a day before putting them back in your closet.</li><li>Say no to plastic bags!</li><li>We asked 22 endocrinologists what products they use - and steer clear of—in their homes. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/nontoxic-products-2648564261.html" target="_blank">Check out their responses here</a>.</li></ul>
Learn More<ul><li>For more information and action steps, be sure to check out <em>Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race</em> by EHS adjunct scientist Shanna Swan, PhD: <a href="https://www.shannaswan.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">available for purchase here.</a></li><li><a href="https://www.ehn.org/st/Subscribe_to_Above_The_Fold" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sign up for our Above the Fold Newsletter </a>to stay up to date about impacts on the environment and your health.</li></ul>
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