“Fresh” apples complete with antibiotic resistance

The background

The first commercial crop of so-called arctic apples was harvested in the autumn of 2016 in North America. These apples are genetically engineered to prevent them turning brown when they are sliced. The sliced apples will still look fresh even after being packaged for a longer period of time. In order for this to happen, gene regulation in the apples has been changed - normal gene activity is blocked by the production of additional biologically active compounds, known as miRNA.

What is the problem?

  • Consumers are being misled; old sliced apples will still look fresh.
  • The biological function of the blocked genes is not fully known. It is thought they might play a role in natural defence mechanisms. And apples could become more susceptible to plant diseases.
  • The company failed to introduce the additional DNA as planned. Consequently, several copies and fragments of the DNA are inherited in the plant genome. This naturally increases the probability of unintended side effects.
  • A gene for antibiotic resistance was inserted into the genome.  It was used as a tool to select  plants in which the genetic engineering was successful. According to EU regulation, these antibiotic resistance marker genes should be avoided in the production of genetically engineered plants. There are concerns that the antibiotic resistance gene might be transferred to microorganisms. Whatever the case, these bacterial genes do not have a place in the natural genome of apple trees and can create risks by disturbing the functions of other genes.
  • The impact on pollinators and consumer health was not investigated in detail.

The apples are being brought on to the market at the same time as genetically engineered mushrooms and potatoes, which have similarly been engineered to not turn brown when cut. What will happen to our food if more and more agricultural plants are manipulated in this way? What long-term effects will there be?

Further information:

The regulation agreed in CETA is not sufficient to safeguard and maintain current EU standards. Under this free trade agreement, these products could be sold without labelling on the EU market.

Okanagan Speciality Fruits Inc., the company which produces the apples, is based in Canada. In 2015, it was bought by the US company, Intrexon. Intrexon shares are owned by investors who appear to be mostly interested in making a financial profit in near future. The founder of Intrexon is the investor Randal J. Kirk. The company has applied for patents covering genetically engineered mice, rats, cats, dogs, cattle, pigs, horses, sheep and chimpanzees as its invention. Intrexon also produces genetically engineered insects, [link], salmon [link] and cloned bulls. Furthermore, Intrexon is working together with the FuturaGene Group to develop genetically engineered trees. One of the members of the management team is Robert B. Shapiro, a former chief executive at Monsanto. Aggressively introducing its genetically engineered organisms on to the markets is an integral part of company policy.

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