Because No One Asked: GMO Avocados In Development

(Dr. Joseph Mercola, Avocados not only are one of the world’s healthiest fruits, but they’re also among the most economically important, representing a $13 billion market in 2017.1 Avocados have been enjoyed since ancient times, but their DNA has been largely foreign — until now. A group of U.S. and Mexican scientists has sequenced the genomes of Mexican and well-known Hass avocados.

Their study, published in PNAS,2 reveals “ancient evolutionary relationships” that give clues to the fruit’s origins but also opens the floodgates to future genetic modification of this already perfect food. Indeed, as The New York Times put it, the research is “likely to become the foundation for breeding techniques and genetic modifications designed to produce avocados that can resist disease or survive in drier conditions.”3

Changing Climate Cited as Push for GMO Avocados

In 2018, scientists released a report detailing changing temperatures in California, along with changes in precipitation patterns, that could change agriculture significantly in the state. Avocados were one of the crops cited as being particularly vulnerable to temperature changes, such that the researchers estimated avocado production in California could decrease by 40% as a result.4,5

Luis Herrera-Estrella of Texas Tech University, who led the study, likewise stated that their research to sequence the avocado genome was necessary in order to make the plants “accessible to modern genomic-assisted breeding efforts.”6 He told The New York Times:7

“Because of climate change, temperature might not be the same, humidity might not be the same, the soil might be different, new insects will come and diseases will come … We need to be prepared to contend with all these inevitable challenges.”

Genetic engineering (GE) could be used to “fight threatening avocado diseases, and to optimize growth and desirable phenotypic traits,” the researchers concluded,8 but it will likely be years before a GE avocado is created, as the plant takes years to mature. Still, this is where the research is headed in creating “avocados for the future.” Herrera-Estrella continued:9

“There are avocados that grow in very hot places with little water, and there are avocados that grow more in rainy places … If we can identify genes that confer heat tolerance and drought tolerance, then we can engineer the avocados for the future.”

Other GE Fruits Already on the Market

Other fruits, including apples and tomatoes, have also had their genomes sequenced, which led to the creation of GE varieties. Apples genetically engineered to resist browning when sliced or bruised appeared in select grocery stores in the U.S. Midwest in 2017. Developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, the apples are engineered to suppress the production of the enzyme — polyphenol oxidase (PPO) — that causes browning.

The first two varieties of the so-named Arctic Apple — Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny — were deregulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2015. A third variety, Arctic Fuji, joined the mix in 2016,10 while in 2019 the company announced Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny fresh slices, which they’re suggesting is the perfect option to get kids to eat more apples.11

Packaging presliced apples raise a couple of immediate concerns, like increased packaging waste for a product that’s already perfect portable, as well as contamination risks, since the more you process a food — pre peeling and slicing it, for instance — the more the risk of contamination increases.

Will non-browning GE avocados also become a thing? Only time will tell, but it’s likely biotech companies will pounce on this opportunity to create a new, entirely unnecessary, GE product. Browning in avocados occurs through the same process that causes browning in apples, and both are completely harmless.

Cutting an apple or avocado exposes the cells to oxygen, which allows the PPO enzymes to rapidly oxidize the phenolic compounds in the fruit’s tissues into ortho-quinones (o-quinones). O-quinones form a natural antiseptic that helps protect the fruit from bacteria and fungi. While o-quinones have no color, they react with oxygen and amino acids to produce melanin, which turns the fruit brown.

GE Avocados May Not Be Labeled

By 2022, the USDA will require GMOs to carry labels, but it will only be in the form of a green circle with the words “derived from bioengineering.” However, the label only applies to a food that has had another organism’s genes spliced into it by a process called transgenesis. Other types of genetic engineering, such as CRISPR gene editing, do not need to be labeled at all.12

As noted by The Non-GMO Project executive director Megan Westgate, the USDA’s GMO labeling law “jeopardizes GMO transparency for Americans”:13

“In its current form, categorical exemptions prevent this law from delivering the meaningful protections Americans deserve. Highly processed ingredients, many products of new genetic engineering techniques such as CRISPR and TALEN, and many meat and dairy products will not require disclosure.”

This means that if avocados are genetically edited using CRISPR or similar technologies, it won’t be noted on the label and you’ll have no way of knowing whether the avocado you’re eating is a traditionally grown variety or one that has had its genes tweaked.

One possibility the featured study researchers are considering to make the idea of GE avocados more “tolerable” is making the rootstock, which is a tree stump used to graft branches onto, GE, rather than modifying the fruit itself.

Victor Albert, one of the study’s authors, told The New York Times, “That’s one big possibility to make G.M. tolerable to people that really care about it … You don’t have to make G.M. avocados, and even if you do G.M., you don’t have to make the avocados themselves G.M.”14 He continued in a University at Buffalo news release:15

“If you have an interesting tree that looks like it’s good at resisting fungus, you can go in and look for genes that are particularly active in this avocado. If you can identify the genes that control resistance, and if you know where they are in the genome, you can try to change their regulation. There’s major interest in developing disease-resistant rootstock on which elite cultivars are grafted.”

Already, however, the team has faced challenges as opposition to GMOs surfaces, including in Mexico. The Mexican agriculture ministry initially contributed a $2.5 million grant for the project but didn’t renew the funding after three years, forcing the team to find money elsewhere.16

There Are Hundreds of Varieties of Avocados

Most avocado lovers are familiar with the Hass variety, which makes up 90% of cultivated avocados.17 One way to protect crops from pests and diseases naturally would be to diversify and expand crops of the many different varieties of avocados available.

There are hundreds of varieties of avocados but, for comparison, only seven are grown commercially in California, and 95% of the total crop is the Hass variety.18 Some of the more unusual varieties listed by the California Avocados website include:19

Bacon — A green-skinned, oval-shaped avocado.

Fuerte — A pear-shaped fruit with smooth skin.

Gwen — This avocado has pebbly skin and is slightly larger than the Hass variety.

Pinkerton — Known for their long pear shape and small seed, which yields more fruit per tree.

Reed — A large round fruit with slight pebbling on the skin.

Zutano — A pear-shaped avocado with shiny yellow-green skin.

It’s believed that avocados originated in Africa before traveling to North America and Central America, and may have been enjoyed in Mexico as far back as 10,000 years ago.20 The genome study revealed that Hass avocado DNA is 61% Mexican and 39% Guatemalan,21 which suggests it has a more recent origin. Herrera-Estrella told the University at Buffalo:22

“Immediately after hybridization, you get these giant blocks of DNA from the parent plants. These blocks break up over many generations as you have more reproductive events that scramble the chromosomes.

But we don’t see this scrambling in the Hass avocado. On chromosome 4, one whole arm appears to be Guatemalan, while the other is Mexican. We see big chunks of DNA in the Hass avocado that reflect its heritage.”

Hass avocados are prized for their flavorful flesh and skin that turns from green to dark purple as it ripens. However, avocados differ not only in their size and skin color but also in their taste, texture and nutritional makeup. According to Food Republic:23

“Florida’s small [avocado] industry is focused on varieties like Choquette, Hall and Lulu — large, smooth-skinned fruits with juicy, sweet flesh popular among populations of Caribbean immigrants …

Many Florida avocado lovers, in fact, dislike the California-grown varieties, sometimes describing them as ‘oily.’ Californians, though, may backpedal from the taste and texture of the low-fat Florida avocados — and call them ‘watery.'”

One avocado variety, Choquette, can weigh up to 2 pounds and releases green juice when you cut it, as it’s high in water content. The Daily 11 is even larger, coming in at 5 pounds or more, while the Tonnage variety is smaller with a lower oil content of 8% to 10% (the Hass variety can have 20% oil content or more).24

There’s even the Mexicola Grande variety, which is a small, black plum-like fruit with black, papery skin. The skin is so thin you can bite right through it — it’s edible — and the flesh has a unique anise-like flavor.25

Why Eat Avocados

Avocados are worthy of their superfood status. With nearly 20 vitamins and minerals and healthy monounsaturated fat, they’re a nutrient-dense food that can also help your body absorb fat-soluble nutrients from other foods in your diet.26

Further, eating one-half of a fresh medium Hass avocado with a significantly inhibited the production of the inflammatory compound Interleukin-6 (IL-6), compared to eating a burger without fresh avocado, suggesting they have anti-inflammatory effects.27

Avocados are also a good source of antioxidants, including carotenoids, tocopherols, and polyphenols, and may have cancer-fighting properties.28 Research also suggests that eating avocados is beneficial for cardiovascular health and may support weight management and healthy aging.29

When choosing avocados, these are among the cleanest fruits in terms of pesticide residues,30 so they’re one type of produce you can opt to buy conventionally grown if need be. However, if GE avocados are introduced, choosing organic will be important to ensure that your avocado is not one of them.

Biotech Companies Gain Power by Taking Over the Government

There is no doubt in my mind that GMOs and the toxic chemicals used along with them pose a serious threat to the environment and our health, yet government agencies turn a blind eye and refuse to act — and the reason is very clear: They are furthering the interests of the biotech giants.

It is well known that there is a revolving door between government agencies and biotech companies like Monsanto-now-Bayer. Consider the hypocrisy of the FDA. On paper, the U.S. may have the strictest food safety laws in the world governing new food additives, but this agency has repeatedly allowed GMOs and their accompanying pesticides and herbicides like Roundup to evade these laws.

In fact, the only legal basis for allowing GE foods to be marketed in the U.S. is the FDA’s claim that these foods are inherently safe, a claim which is patently ridiculous. Documents released as a result of a lawsuit against the FDA reveal that the agency’s own scientists warned their superiors about the detrimental risks of GE foods. But their warnings fell on deaf ears.

The influence of the biotech giants is not limited to the U.S. In a June 2017 article, GMWatch revealed that 26 of the 34 members of the National Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology of Argentina (CONABIA) are either employed by chemical technology companies or have major conflicts of interest.

You may be aware that Argentina is one of the countries where single-crop fields of GE cotton, corn and soy dominate the countryside. Argentina is also a country facing severe environmental destruction. Argentines are plagued with health issues, including degenerative diseases and physical deformities. It would appear that the rapid expansion of GE crops and the subsequent decline in national health indicators are intrinsically linked.

Don’t Be Duped by Industry Shills!

Biotech companies’ outrageous attempts to push for their corporate interests extend far beyond the halls of government. In a further effort to hoodwink the public, Monsanto/Bayer and their cohorts have been caught zealously spoon-feeding scientists, academics and journalists with questionable studies that depict them in a positive light.

By hiring “third-party experts,” biotech companies are able to take the information of dubious validity and present it as independent and authoritative. It’s a shameful practice that is far more common than anyone would like to think. One notorious example of this is Henry Miller, who was thoroughly outed as a Monsanto shill during the 2012 Proposition 37 GMO labeling campaign in California.

Miller, falsely posing as a Stanford professor, promoted GE foods during this campaign. In 2015, he published a paper in Forbes Magazine attacking the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, after it classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. After it was revealed that Miller’s work was in fact ghostwritten by Monsanto, Forbes not only fired him but also removed all of his work from its site.

Industry front groups also abound. The Genetic Literacy Project and the American Council on Science and Health were both Monsanto-funded before Bayer bought Monsanto. Whether that funding continues under Bayer is left to be seen, but other “trusted” sources were also caught taking Monsanto money.

For example, WebMD, a website that is often presented as a trustworthy source of “independent and objective” health information, was exposed acting as a lackey for Monsanto by using its influence to promote corporate-backed health strategies and products, displaying advertisements and advertorials on Big Biotechs’ behalf, furthering the biotech industry’s agenda — all for the sake of profit.

But even with underhanded tactics to peddle their toxic products, biotechs are now unable to hide the truth: Genetic engineering will in no way, shape or form make the world a better place. It will not solve world hunger. It will not increase farmers’ livelihoods. And it most certainly will not do any good for your health — and may, in fact, prove to be detrimental.

There’s No Better Time to Act Than NOW — Here’s What to Do

So now the question is: Will you continue supporting the corrupt, toxic and unsustainable food system that Big Biotech, Monsanto/Bayer and their industry shills and profit-hungry lackeys have painstakingly crafted? It is largely up to all of us, as consumers, to loosen and break their tight hold on our food supply. The good news is that the tide has turned.

As consumers worldwide become increasingly aware of the problems linked to GE crops and the toxic chemicals, herbicides, and pesticides used on them, more and more people are proactively refusing to eat these foods. There’s also strong growth in the global organic and grass-fed sectors. This just proves one thing: We can make a difference if we steadily work toward the same goal.

One of the best things you can do is to buy your foods from a local farmer who runs a small business and uses diverse methods that promote regenerative agriculture. You can also join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, where you can buy a “share” of the vegetables produced by the farm, so you get a regular supply of fresh food. I believe that joining a CSA is a powerful investment not only in your own health but in that of your local community and economy as well.

In addition, you should also adopt preventive strategies that can help reduce the toxic chemical pollution that assaults your body. I recommend visiting these trustworthy sites for non-GMO food resources in your country:

Monsanto, Bayer and their allies want you to think that they control everything, but they do not. It’s you, the masses, who hold the power in your hands. Let’s all work together to topple the biotech industry’s house of cards. Remember — it all starts with shopping smart and making the best food purchases for you and your family.

Sources and References

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