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.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
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