Most people know that Apple® releases a new and improved version of their iPhone every year into the electronics marketplace, but how many people are aware that a small Canadian company is in the process of releasing a new GMO (genetically modified organism) apple into the environment? As iPhone fans eagerly stand in line to buy the iPhone 6, what kind of expectations do they have? Apple® claims the new phone will have a larger screen, better battery life, a more powerful processor, and an improved camera. As for the GMO apple, I call it “Apple 2.0,” because like the iPhone, it is a human creation meant to be an improvement over version 1.0.
In this case, Apple 1.0 is the fruit we have been eating and cultivating for thousands of years. If you have not already heard, the improvement this small Canadian company hopes to make is to genetically engineer the fruit to resist turning brown after slicing. At this point you may be wondering what the problem is. We can make new and improved phones using electronics technology, so why can’t we make new and improved apples using biotechnology?
Nature Versus Technology
The debate over GMOs can be very confusing, but without going into great detail the GMO debate can be reduced to a simple choice question. That is, do you trust nature and the ancient knowledge of our ancestors who would seek natural products, methods and systems as much as practically possible? Or do you believe the ingenuity of modern humans, along with major advancements in technology, will be able to create products, methods and systems that are superior to those we find in nature?
I know there are some out there who may be wondering what exactly “natural” means since at this point in history, nearly every square meter of the planet seems to have been modified in some way by humans. We could spend years debating about the environmental, economic, health risks and benefits of growing and eating GMO foods. I believe this conversation is worth having and it is starting to happen across the nation, but for the purpose of keeping this post concise, we need to zoom out here and focus on the big picture. I think it will take years and even decades before we reach a scientific and societal consensus about the use of GMOs. Until that consensus is reached we need to make decisions about whether or not we will buy and eat GMO food.
We Eat Apples, not Apple®
So why do I question our ability to create new versions of food in the same way that we improve upon old versions of electronics? First, let’s start with the obvious: we eat food while we do not eat our phones. Your body needs to digest food and convert it into energy and tissues, but will your body be able to recognize and therefore properly digest these foreign modified materials? The answer is that I don’t know. What I do know is that in Ayurveda, there is a term called “ama”.
Ama basically refers to improperly digested food that over time, is responsible for a wide array of health problems. This is one of the reasons that digestion is considered so important in Ayurveda, and this is why I am cautious about biotechnology. Second, will there be any side effects or allergies associated with eating GMOs? I don’t know that answer either, but I do know that modern medicine in the form of pharmaceuticals is infamous for having side effects. I use the example of pharmaceuticals, but I could have easily mentioned any other synthetic food additive we have invented that produces undesirable side effects including aspartame, olestra, hydrogenated oils, or anti-biotics. It seems that every time we try to create a new health or dietary product in the name of convenience and progress we are left with the same result, the corporations win and the people and planet lose.
The bottom line here is that we don’t know what the long-term health effects of eating these foods are, and so unless you want to be part of an experiment with unknown consequences, you would be wise to simply avoid GMO foods.
McIntosh Apples, Grown in WA
Why write about this topic now? It’s been one year since Washington voters had to decide whether to label GMO foods, and our neighbors in Oregon are now in the process of having to make the same decision. Of course iPhone 6 was highly anticipated, yet I doubt many people are aware that the GMO apple is currently navigating through the approval process with the US Department of Agriculture. With Washington being the apple capital of the country, I wonder what effect this new GMO product will have on our local economy if it is approved for consumption by the public. We live in a very complicated and interconnected world and we seem to be creating problematic situations faster than we know how to manage them. This is where the application of traditional knowledge enters the picture. Health systems such as Ayurveda existed thousands of years before the existence of modern technology and they serve as a guide that helps us make decisions about how to live and attain optimal health. If you want to take the risk of eating Apple 2.0 simply to avoid a browning apple, then that is your decision to make. But why take that risk when we already know that optimal health is easily attainable by simply eating version 1.0?
Eric Johnson is a certified Ayurvedic Lifestyle Guide and he regularly writes about the many connections between agriculture, food, health, and environment at: sattvicplanet.net