Christina Ortiz-Dixon

May 25th 2020

Engineering Apples: The Impact of Genetically Modified Food


Last year, genetically modified apples, particularly the Arctic apple (engineered to prevent browning), entered the consumer market in a big way. Though there has been some hesitation from consumers to accept genetically modified organisms, the creators of Arctic apples are hoping that their product will serve as a successful example of GMOs.

According to The Washington Post, “Industry executives predict the apple could open a whole new trade in genetically engineered produce, potentially opening the market to pink pineapples, antioxidant-enriched tomatoes, and other food currently in development.”

What are some of the obstacles of genetically modified food, and will consumers eventually accept GMOs?

GMO Skeptics vs. Facts

The USDA reported in 2017 that the adoption of GMOs in farming has grown during the past few decades. However, the conversation among consumers doesn’t put GMOs in the best light. Despite research suggesting that GMOs are safe, Stefaan Blancke, a philosopher at Ghent University in Belgium, theorizes that many people have a false belief that GMO equals contamination.

Blancke released a study where he and Belgian biotechnologists examined why negative publicity surrounding genetically modified food resonated with consumers better than their own researched benefits. As Blancke notes in a Scientific American article, the answer is pretty simple. Negative representations of GMOs are more intuitively appealing because they catch our attention. They tap into our tendency to view anything that strays from the natural order of things as dangerous and unhealthy. “The popular term “Frankenfood” captures what is at stake: by going against the will of nature in an act of hubris, we are bound to bring enormous disaster upon ourselves,” he says.

Blancke concludes that the solution to fighting this misinformation begins with educating us about GMOs and emphasizing the benefits for consumers and farmers.

Consumers Want GMO Labeling, Despite Objections

A poll conducted by ABC News illustrates that most Americans are still highly skeptical of GMOs: 93 percent of Americans favor mandatory GMO labeling, and 52 percent of those polled believed that GMOs are unsafe.

Despite the objections by leading science and governmental organizations, many grocery chains across the country are adding labels to their produce. This year, Whole Foods will label all items containing GMOs, following the lead of their Great Britain-based stores, thanks to the EU-mandated laws for labeling such products.

Like it or Not, GMOs are Here to Stay

While genetically modified apples may be the most recent example of GMOs hitting American grocery shelves, our produce has been influenced by genetic engineering for a long time. Crops like soy and corn are some of the most heavily modified, either for durability or improved nutrition. Most controversially, the sugar beet, which has been deregulated since 2005, makes up half of the country’s sugar market, according to the USDA.

Today, climate change affects every aspect of our lives, from pollination to national security, while our need to adapt grows. PRI magazine reports that some scientists believe modifying crops resilient to the challenges ahead could prevent food shortages and increase our ability to survive our ever-changing planet.