Cloned fruit is widely sold in grocery stores. Some of it is cloned mutant fruit. None of these fruits are labeled as such. They aren't even regulated. You can't avoid this kind of fruit by going to Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. Should you be concerned?
Actually, almost all fruit is cloned for good reasons that I will describe below. I like to use this question as a way to show people how emotive language can be used to make something ordinary sound scary. That is why a healthy dose of skepticism is needed as we encounter so many alarmist allegations about our food supply. The danger is getting drawn into a conspiracy-theory mindset which leaves people unable to listen to reasoned explanation.
The Advance of the Clones
If you plant the seeds from an apple variety that you particularly enjoy - several years later you will be disappointed to find that the fruit is not at all like the one you originally ate. It will probably be more like a crab apple. People long ago discovered that desirable specimens must be propagated by rooting, grafting, or budding onto some other root stock, and all of those are means of cloning. And yes, some fruit varieties were developed using mutation breeding. The Ruby Red Grapefruit is an example I enjoy on a regular basis. Nectarines are a spontaneous mutant of a peach which lacked the fuzz.
But What About Johnny Apple Seed?
Nature Also Clones
There is desert shrub called Guayule, which is being developed as a new, sustainable source of natural rubber. It produces seed both through regular sexual reproduction and also through a process called apomixis. The seed looks normal, but it is genetically identical to the mother plant (thus technically a clone). Plant breeders would like to find a way to generate apomictic seed of major crops to avoid either expensive hybrid seed production or to avoid the extensive back-crossing needed to develop a line that will "breed true."
Cloning Does Limit Genetic Diversity
|Examples of landrace potatoes from Peru which were the source of the resistance genes|
This trait could be extremely helpful for European farmers, but it has predictably been opposed by anti-GMO activists. Yet, strangely, no one seems to worry about the crops developed decades ago by very clumsy methods of mutation breeding involving the use of radiation or toxic chemicals. Although the track record of such crop improvements has been positive, there is a far more reasonable basis for concern with that method than with genetic engineering.
So, what is the purpose of this botany lesson? I guess I'm trying to make the point that not everything that can be made to sound scary about food is really scary. Think about that the next time you enjoy some cloned fruit!
You are welcome to comment here and/or to email me as savage dot sd at gmail dot com
Cloned apple image started from Ala_z via Wikimedia. Apple seed image from Artotem. Andean potato image from Wikimedia commons