Washington D.C. (March 23, 2015) – In a statement that has disappointed many consumer advocates, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said it has “no further questions” about the industry’s assurances that genetically engineered (GE) varieties of apples and potatoes are safe to eat and their plans to sell them commercially. An apple variety called “Arctic Apple” from Okanagan Specialty Fruits and a potato called “Innate” from J.R. Simplot both use a novel form of RNA interference to “mask” certain characteristics of the foods. FDA does not make a formal finding of food safety for GE crops, and its only review of GE foods is a voluntary consultation with industry where it reviews summaries of the industry’s data.
“Both of these products use a new form of genetic engineering called RNA interference (RNAi), the consequences of which are still little understood. It is risky to allow these products to enter the food supply when impacts of the basic technology are so poorly understood,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. “This is yet another reason why American consumers have the right to know how their food is produced. We need to ensure that all GE products are properly labeled.”
RNA interference (RNAi) induces the plant to silence or dial back expression of the plant’s own genes. And some applications in the pipeline are designed to transfer to pests that feed on crops, thereby killing them, but may also kill helpful organisms like pollinators or insects that protect crops from pests. However, RNA manipulations may end up turning down, or off, genes other than those that were targeted because many genes contain similar, or even identical, stretches of DNA. Some genes are inexplicably affected even without sharing sequences. Current testing requirements do not reliably detect such effects on other important crop genes, or genes of beneficial organisms.
The Arctic Apple has been dubbed the “Botox Apple” because it is artificially changed to reduce browning. Pre-sliced apples are a frequently recalled food product. Once the whole fruit is sliced, it has an increased risk of exposure to pathogens. Since browning is a sign that apples are no longer fresh, “masking” this natural signal could lead people to unknowingly ingest pathogens. The apples, which are meant to appeal to fresh-cut apple slice processors and the food service industry, could also find their way into non-GE fruit slices, juice, baby foods or apple sauce, products predominantly consumed by children and babies who are at increased risk for any adverse health effects.
Read more about the Botox Apple here.
The Innate Potato is dubbed “Concealer Potato” because its genes are modified to reduce the naturally occurring browning by silencing the expression of one of five polyphenol oxidase genes, which is normally highly expressed in potato tubers. This is attractive to the potato processing industry because bruised potatoes are culled for cosmetic reasons. However, bruised potatoes have not been associated with health risks. These potatoes also have reduced function of several genes that lead to acrylamide production when potatoes are exposed to high temperatures, as in frying.
Read more about the Concealer Potato here.