Seeds of Discontent for BCFGA
Okanagan Specialty Fruit founder and president Neal Carter picking Arctic Apples.
By Gary Symons
The BC Fruit Growers’ Association is demanding the federal government place a moratorium on the release of the genetically modified ‘Arctic Apple’.
The benefit of the apple is that it does not turn brown after it is cut up, but opponents say not enough is known about the long-term health and environmental impacts of genetically modified foods.
BCFGA President Jeet Dukhia says approval of a genetically modified apple will hurt the reputation of BC tree fruits in general, and hurt sales internationally.
“Our concern is the negative publicity for apples in general caused by the controversy over this GM (genetically modified) apple,” says Dukhia. “There is potential market damage caused to apple markets if this GM apple is approved. Indeed, it seems the damage is occurring even while the apple is in the regulatory process and a decision on its approval is still pending.”
The Arctic Apple has raised a storm of controversy across Canada, particularly among fruit growers who see it as a threat to the reputation of Canadian producers.
The apple was developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits in Summerland, BC as a way to deal with the ‘enzymatic browning’ of apples after they are cut, bitten, or sliced.
When an apple is cut, a chemical reaction is sparked between the apple’s polyphenol oxidase (PPO) and the apple’s health promoting phenolics that cause the flesh to turn brown very quickly.
The Arctic Apple has been altered to essentially ‘turn down’ or suppress the action of the PPO through a process called ‘gene silencing’. Basically, Arctic Apples don’t produce enough PPO to cause the flesh to brown.
Neal Carter, the founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruit, says the BCFGA’s opposition to the Arctic Apple is based on perception, not on the scientific reality.
"The regulatory review processes in both Canada and the U.S. are extremely rigorous and rely on evidence-based assessment,” Carter says. “Arctic apples are the most tested apple in the world and have proven to be just as safe and healthful as other apples, so consumers should have the opportunity to decide for themselves."
Perception or not, the BCFGA says while consumers like the idea of an apple that doesn’t turn brown, that approval becomes tainted as soon as the phrase ‘genetically modified’ comes into the mix.
The BCFGA co-sponsored a consumer survey last year - along with the Quebec Apple Producers’ Association - that found 69 per cent of Canadians are opposed to genetically modified foods.
As well, nine out of 10 Canadians believe all GM foods should be clearly labeled, and three out of four say the federal government has not provided enough clear information about GM foods.
Dukhia says growers are finding this concern about the Arctic Apple is making people wonder about Canadian apples in general.
“If 76% of people say the Canadian government has not provided adequate information to the public on GM foods, how can the government then approve these products for introduction to an unprepared marketplace?” says Dukhia.
“This places the entire apple market at risk, and we have asked that the government place an immediate, pre-emptive moratorium on this apple before our markets suffer.”
Carter, however, disputes the findings of that survey.
“BCFGA's survey was commissioned after they came out in opposition to Arctic apples, and their bias is reflected in the nature of the survey questions and their interpretation of the results,” Carter says. “Our own market research, available on our website, has demonstrated that the majority of consumers are interested in purchasing Arctic apples, and this number increases significantly the more consumers learn about how Arctic apples were developed."
The BCFGA has asked Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to suspend the regulatory process for the Arctic Apple.“The public thinks of apples as a pure, natural, healthy and nutritional fruit. GM apples are a risk to our market image,” Dukhia says.
The Arctic Apple is in the final stage of the approval process in the US. Approval in Canada is expected by February or March.
The BCFGA’s opposition to the Arctic Apple was endorsed by its delegates at its Annual Convention. The BCFGA represents 550 commercial tree fruit growers in BC.
The Canadian Horticulture Council’s Apple Working Group, a national committee of representatives from each apple growing province, is also in favour of a moratorium on the introduction of the Arctic Apple.