Genetically Modified Fruits
From CopperWikiGenetic Engineering (GE) is a set of technologies used to change the genetic makeup of cells, or move genes across the boundaries of species to produce other kinds of novel organisms. Like us many millions of cells go in the making of every fruit or plant. Minute structures, including strands of chromosomes, are contained in the cells, carrying all the information required for the plant to grow. The looks of the plants depend on the genes they receive from parent plants.
Why should I be aware of this?
Now it is possible to bypass the process of normal fertilization of the female egg with the male pollen and instead take a gene from a plant and insert it in another to produce offspring which contain copies of the transplanted gene.
In the same manner plant genes can be put in animals and animal genes in plants. The benefits of genetic modification of fruits are:
- Improved insect and disease resistance
- Resistance of the crop to herbicides
- Greater tolerance to drought, salinity and temperature
- Better flavour
- Longer shelf life
- More vitamins and other nutrients.
All about genetically modified fruits
Americans on an average now eat one pound of papaya annually. The papaya industry in Hawaii, the largest supplier of papayas not only in the US but also in Japan, Canada and Germany, would not be in existence today without genetically engineered papayas. A genetically modified plum variety, known as "C5", is another significant GE fruit approved for human consumption.
While Genetic Engineering will help plums resist the mutation of the Plum Pox Virus (PPV) commonly found among stone fruit trees, papayas have been genetically engineered to make them resistant to the devastating effects of Papaya Ring Spot Virus (PRSV).
The PRSV virus does not kill trees but causes yield losses and reduces the marketability of fruits. PPV, on the other hand, has caused considerable losses in Europe, with cultivators reporting yield losses of 80-100%. Its action is not limited to plums alone but extends to apricots, peaches, sweet and sour cherries, and nectarines. It is expected that approval of C5 will pave the way for more GE fruits.
Major genetically engineered fruits
- Papayas -- Genetically modified papayas are approved for consumption both in the US and in Canada. Several Asian countries are currently developing transgenic papaya varieties resistant to local viral strains. So far GM papayas are not approved in the EU and importing and marketing genetically modified papayas is also not permitted.
- Apples -- Genetically modified apples have so far not been approved anywhere in the world. Though approval is not likely in the next few years, GM apple field tests will continue increasing. Several field trials are under way in the US and the EU. Insect resistant transgenic apples with delayed softening and longer shelf life are being developed in the US. Such apples can be ripened on the tree. Currently apple growers face different types of diseases connected with the fruit. These include fire blight, apple scab, and powdery mildew. Fire blight, which is highly contagious, along with fungal diseases like apple scab and powdery mildew, has been causing significant losses in recent years. And they taste good.
- Bananas-- GE projects for bananas are still in the greenhouse. Research is going on in different countries such as India, Africa, Indonesia, USA, Philippines and Indonesia for improving banana traits. The most pressing concern for this variety of fruit is a fungal disease called Black Sigatoka which is threatening plantations in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and Latin America. This disease is gradually becoming resistant to fungicides. Reduced yield in many regions is forcing farmers to spray their plantations up to fifty times a year, endangering the environment and health of plantation workers. Genetically modified varieties are showing resistance to the fungus in greenhouse conditions. Depending on the success of some toxicological tests, these can be released in the market for general consumption.
- Pineapples -- Pineapples are also modified genetically to introduce pest and viral resistance, with delayed ripening trait.
- Plums -- Efforts are under way in the US to introduce genetically modified plums for commercial use.
- Tomatoes -- Now only tomatoes have been marketed with GE delayed-ripening traits. Delaying the ripening process in fruit allows more time for shipment from the farmer's fields to the grocer's shelf, and increases the shelf life of the fruit for consumers. Israeli researchers are said to be working on genetically modified tomatoes to include a gene from a variety of lemon basil, Ocimum basilicum, which will give the end product hints of lemon and rose aromas. Test of these items against unmodified products have shown encouraging results
Genetically engineered fruit in different countries
In 2000, a total of 13 countries grew genetically modified crops, with 68% of them grown in the U.S and Argentina, Canada and China producing 23%, 7% and 1%, respectively. Other countries that grew commercial GM crops in 2000 are Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Mexico, Romania, South Africa, Spain, and Uruguay.
While efforts are on to put in place effective regulatory processes, different governments of different countries are responding in different ways
- Currently, testing of GM foods is voluntary in Japan. Though supermarkets are offering both GM and unmodified fruits and vegetables, there is still a marked preference for the unmodified version
- GM crops are not being grown in India and no GM food is commercially available.
- Some Brazilian states have banned GM food but farmers are resorting to smuggling to stay competitive in the international market
- Anti-GM food protesters have been especially active in Europe. Europe has made food labeling of GM foods in stores mandatory following the food scare created by the mad cow disease in the UK and dioxin-tainted foods originating from Belgium.
- In the United States there are three different government agencies that have jurisdiction over GM foods. The EPA evaluates GM plants for environmental safety, the USDA evaluates whether the plant is safe to grow, and the FDA evaluates whether the plant is safe to eat. Violation of government regulations may result in steep fines, loss of license and even jail sentences.
Concerns about genetic engineering
There is still widespread concern about genetically engineered food, including fruits. Some of the areas of concern are:
- Development of insect, disease and weed resistance
- Reduction in beneficial insects
- Contamination of organically grown crops
- Development of antibiotic resistance from the use of antibiotic marker genes
- Loss of traditional seed resources
- Multinational companies’ domination
- Apparent lack of stringent assessment, regulation and labelling
- Ethical and religious reasons.
There have been widespread criticism and protests against genetically modified fruits and vegetables by environmental activists, religious organizations, public interest groups, professional associations and other scientists and government officials. GE is accused of being a very imprecise science. Its role of crossing natural boundaries and creating new species is questioned.
Consumers in Asia and Europe are demanding that their food be free of genetically modified ingredients.
What supporters say
- Taste better. Quality better
- Takes less time for maturation
- More nutrients, stronger and more tolerant products
- Pesticide, disease and pests resistant
- Helps in soil, water and energy conservation
- Better natural waste management
What critics say
- Fears of unknown effects
- Genes may be transferred through cross-pollination and affect other organisms and soil
- Domination of world food would go in the hands of a few
- Developing nations will become dependent on industrialized nations
- Local resources will open to foreign exploitation
- Process of mixing genes among species alters the natural process
How to identify genetically engineered fruit
The PLU code mentioned on fruits help you identify if the fruit was genetically modified, organically grown or produced with chemical fertilizers, fungicides, or herbicides. For fruits grown with chemicals, the PLU code on the sticker consists of four numbers.
Organically grown fruit has a five-numeral PLU prefaced by the number 9. Genetically engineered fruit has a five-numeral PLU prefaced by the number 8.
For example, a conventionally grown banana would be: 4011. An organic banana would be: 94011. A genetically engineered banana would be: 84011.
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