Cisgenics, intragenics, and non-browning apples - GM lobby doublespeak
2. USDA asked to approve non-browning GMO apple
3. Food for thought - Jim Hightower article about GM non-browning apple
NOTE: For several years, genetic engineers have promoted branches of GM called "cisgenics" and "intragenics", which use genes from the species of interest or related species - as distinct from "transgenics", which uses genes from an unrelated species. They tout "cisgenic"/"intragenic" food as a safer and more publicly acceptable option than "transgenic" food on the claimed grounds that no foreign genes are introduced:
An article on the pro-GM Biofortified website, "Cisgenics - Transgenics without the Transgene", bluntly states the PR value of "cisgenics":
"the central theme is to placate the misinformed public opinion by using clever technologies to circumvent traditional unfounded criticisms of biotechnology."
The GM "non-browning apple", named Arctic, that a Canadian company is asking the US to approve (see items 2, 3), is an example of a "cisgenic" product.
Venkatesh Viswanath and Steven H. Strauss, Modifying Plant Growth the Cisgenic Way, ISB News Report, Sept 2010.
The GM lobby also seems to be seeing intragenics and cisgenics as a way of sneaking genetically manipulated foods past regulatory barriers:
"A strong case has been made for cisgenic plants to come under a new regulatory tier with reduced regulatory oversight or to be exempted from GM regulation."
- Venkatesh Viswanath and Steven H. Strauss, Modifying Plant Growth the Cisgenic Way, ISB News Report, Sept 2010.
But in reality, as a scientist told us (item 1), the difference between transgenic and intragenic/cisgenic is only semantic: "the artificial nature of the transgene construct and its way of introduction into the plant genome make intragenics/cisgenics just as GM/transgenic as cross-species transfers".
1. A scientist's comments on intragenics/cisgenics
The word "intragenic" implies that one is engineering genes within the genome of a single species. But although it is possible to isolate a gene from corn, for instance, and then put it back into corn, this will not be purely intragenic. This is because, in order to put the gene back into corn, it is necessary to link it to other sequences from bacteria and/or viruses and/or other organisms and/or even synthetic DNA. Since any "intragenic" gene transfer uses sequences from other organisms, the process is not purely intragenic, but is transgenic. "Transgenic" is defined as moving genetic elements from one species to another. The supposedly intragenic apple is clearly transgenic in that sequences other than apple DNA sequences were part of the DNA construct that was introduced into the apple. Another term that is used instead of "intragenic" is "cisgenic" which contrasts with "transgenic".
The implication in making the intragenic/transgenic distinction is that intragenic genetically engineered organisms will be safer than "transgenic" ones. This is fallacious in the following two ways:
First, as I explain above, such GMOs are not purely intragenic because they introduce sequences from other species and this introduces big unknowns into the organism's functioning, because we don't know all the effects that those foreign sequences might have on the organism into which they have been introduced.
Second, risks of GMOs are not limited to the unknowns related to introduction of "foreign" (non-intragenic) DNA into the recipient organism. The process of introducing ANY piece of DNA into an organism via genetic engineering techniques has big risks and big unknowns associated with it. In any genetic engineering process, intragenic or transgenic, insertion takes place essentially randomly and without control. That means that any genetic engineering process results in at least one insertional mutation event within the DNA of the recipient organism. That insertional event will interrupt some sequence within the DNA of the organism. That insertion will interfere with any natural function that the interrupted DNA may have. For instance, if the insertion occurs in the middle of a gene, that gene's function could be destroyed. That means the organism will lose the cellular function that that gene encodes.
Another just as feasible outcome is production of an aberrant (eg truncated) host protein. There are various ways in which this can happen - e.g. aberrant pre-mRNA splicing caused by the transgene insertion event. This abnormal host protein will have novel properties that could make it highly toxic in its own right or disruptive to the host's biochemistry, in turn leading to toxins, allergens, etc.
In addition, all of these manipulations take place in plant cells that are grown in culture. There is a growing body of research evidence that documents the fact that the process of plant cell culture, itself, actually causes additional mutations to the cells' DNA. These mutations can result in additional damage to the functioning of the organism. These are both fundamental hazards associated with genetic engineering, whether it is done with sequences from the same or different species.
So in summary, no genetically engineered organism is purely intragenic and therefore to make a claim that this apple is special and safer than any other GMO because it is intragenic and not transgenic is not true. It is preying on the peoples' naivete regarding the details of genetic engineering. Intragenic GMOs have as much reality as hens' teeth. "Intragenic GMO" is a phrase for which there is no correlate in the real world. Second, genetic engineering of any sort, transgenic, intragenic, cisgenic or whatever, has very real and very well recognized hazards, and to claim that a GMO is intragenic, and therefore safe, fails to recognize and understand these hazards.
2. USDA Asked To Approve Non-Browning GMO Apple
November 29, 2010
CASHMERE, Wash. - A Canadian biotechnology company has asked the U.S. to approve a genetically modified apple that won't brown soon after its sliced, saying the improvement could boost sales of apples for snacks, salads and other uses.
U.S. apple growers say it's too soon to know whether they'd be interested in the apple: They need to resolve questions about the apple's quality, the cost of planting and, most importantly, whether people would buy it.
"Genetically modified - that's a bad word in our industry," said Todd Fryhover, president of the apple commission in Washington state, which produces more than half the U.S. crop.
But Neal Carter, president of the company that developed the apples, said the technology would lower the cost of producing fresh slices, which have become a popular addition to children's lunch boxes, and make apples more popular in salads and other quick meals.
Carter's company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits of Summerland, British Columbia, licensed the non-browning technology from Australian researchers who pioneered it in potatoes. Essentially, the genes responsible for producing the enzyme that induces browning have been silenced in the apple variety being marketed as "Arctic."
"They look like apple trees and grow like apple trees and produce apples that look like all other apples and when you cut them, they don't turn brown," Carter said. "The benefit is something that can be identified just about by everybody."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has considered about 100 petitions for genetically engineered or modified crops. Those that have drawn the most attention have been engineered to withstand certain weed killers, but among those the agency has approved are tomatoes altered to ripen more slowly - the first genetically modified crop approved in the U.S. in 1992 - and plums that resist a specific virus. This is the first petition for apples.
The USDA's biotechnology regulations are designed to ensure that genetically modified crops are just as safe for agriculture and the environment as traditionally bred crop varieties, spokesman R. Andre Bell said in a statement. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service works with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, depending on the product, to ensure safety.
The approval process can take years, and it's not clear the apples will be accepted even if they pass government inspection.
Fryhover raised concerns about cross-pollination of conventional trees with genetically modified ones if they were planted in close proximity. He also questioned whether Arctic apples would generate enough in sales to outweigh the $10,000 to $20,000 per acre cost of replanting.
Carter said growers replant orchards all the time and the company aims to have big growers plant the apples in large blocks so cross pollination is minimized. Carter said he's confident the fruit won't harm the environment and he's submitted paperwork to the USDA and FDA to prove his point.
"Some people won't like it just because of what it is," he said. "In the end, it's a great product, no question about it, and people will see the process used to get it had very sound science."
Companies have invested heavily in crops genetically modified to improve flavor, increase yields or nutrition and make them drought resistant, said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit public interest group based in Washington, D.C. Often, though, the genes that define those traits are one small part of a complex system, he said.
"Scientists have been saying they're only turning one thing off, but that switch is connected to another switch and another switch," Kimbrell said. "You can't just do one thing to nature. It's nice to think so, but it just doesn't work that way."
He also said the non-browning technology appears to benefit apple growers and shippers more than consumers by allowing companies to sell apples that are older than they look.
"A botox apple is not what people are looking for," Kimbrell said. "I'm predicting failure."
Crunch Pak, based in Cashmere, Wash., is No. 1 in the sliced apple market, with customers including Costco, Kroger Co., Publix and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The company, founded in 2000, has tripled in size in the past four years, with nearly 500 employees and a new processing plant in Pennsylvania.
Its apples are rinsed in a combination of calcium and ascorbic acid - vitamin C - to maintain freshness. Taste and quality are always important, but spokesman Tony Freytag said the biggest issue is food safety.
"Quite honestly, I would rather have an apple turn brown than think it's still OK because it's still white," he said. "I'm not discounting the anti-browning. It's just not the panacea."
Everyone agreed that consumers will make the final call. They have largely accepted other genetically modified crops, but whether they will do the same with apples remains to be seen.
"There's something about an apple. It's the symbol of health and nutrition, and then to turn around and say it's been genetically modified - doesn't that go against what consumers say they're looking for?" Fryhover asked. "Right now, I wouldn't say the industry is poised to go either direction. We need to know more."
3. Food for Thought
15 December 2010
In this joyous season, friends and family come together to cook, share and savor nature's bounty. As we tuck into food and drink this year, we can be especially appreciative because - wow! - another scientific breakthrough has been made in food production.
"The benefit is something that can be identified just about by everybody," exulted Neal Carter, who helped produce this long-awaited advance for humankind. Is it a miraculous cancer-fighting food? No, bigger than that. Is it a richly decadent chocolate that helps eaters lose weight? No, bigger even than that. What we have here is - are you ready? - apple slices that don't turn brown!
Is this fabulous or what? Non-browning apple slices - another marvel from the biotechnology profiteers who love to mess with the genetic makeup of the world's food supply. And this is truly a global accomplishment. The science of non-browning was pioneered in potatoes by Australian gene-splicers, who licensed the process to Carter. He's a Canadian peddler of apple trees who hopes that American apple growers will now rip out their old-fashioned natural orchards and plant these biotech wonders of modern science, paying a nice profit to his company.
But it's going to be a hard sell. "Genetically modified," said the head of Washington state's apple commission, "that's a bad word in our industry." He's referring to the fact that consumers routinely reject foods they know to be altered. In fact, consumers are demanding more organic production, not stuff from a gene factory.
Also, Carter could not have chosen a worse product to turn into a lab rat. Apples are the very symbol of nutrition and health, a perfect snack for children. Why mess with it? Besides, mothers know that a little lemon water is all it takes to keep apple slices from browning.
This technology has no benefit for consumers, but it could fatten the bottom line of big-box retailers, allowing them to sell old, inferior apples that look fresh only because they're still white.
That's gross. But other biotech corporations love to play with our food, even though we don't like it when they do.
So what happens when ordinary folks organize to stop the Frankenstein-ification of our foods? They sometimes get defeated.
For example, in Ohio, such biotech powerhouses as Monsanto and Eli Lilly are the profiteers behind an artificial growth hormone that induces dairy cows to produce more milk. This stuff is not good for the cows, and it produces nutritionally inferior milk. It also horrifies consumers - who tend to get a bit testy at the thought of having what actually is a sex hormone added to the milk their children drink.
However, big milk marketers like the idea of squeezing out more milk per cow, for it fattens their bottom lines. The only problem is that little matter of consumer rejection. But the biotechers and marketers fixed that by getting federal regulators to declare that adulterated milk need not be labeled as such. In short, the industry, the government and even the cows know about the sex hormones, but consumers are kept in the dark.
Nonetheless, many organic and smaller dairy businesses have had the audacity to label their products as "hormone-free," and consumers have rushed to them. This spurred the hormone hucksters into a cross-country lobbying frenzy, demanding that various state governments ban hormone-free labels.
Ohio swallowed this corporate line, outlawing labels that tell consumers what's NOT in their milk. Now, however, in a case brought by the Organic Trade Association, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that such bans are not only ridiculous, but unconstitutional, violating the free speech rights of dairy producers who want to be straight with consumers.
The court's decision is a major defeat for the 15-year effort by the corporate powers to hide their perfidy from milk buyers. To learn more, contact the Organic Trade Association: www.ota.com.
To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM