Fruit growers ask federal government to halt Arctic Apple approval process

But head of Summerland company behind genetically modified fruit growers should look at apple from different perspective

The B.C. Fruit Growers Association has asked two federal ministers to step in and put a moratorium on a genetically-modified apple, even as it approaches regulatory approval in the U.S.

The BCFGA wrote to Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz requesting that the Canadian regulatory process for the Arctic Apple be suspended.

“Our concern is the negative publicity for apples in general caused by the controversy over this GM apple,” said Jeet Dukhia, BCFGA president, citing concerns over the damage the apple could do to apple marketing. “The public thinks of apples as a pure, natural, healthy and nutritional fruit. GM apples are a risk to our market image.”

Summerland orchardist and president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Neal Carter developed the Arctic Apple,using genetic techniques to turn off the gene that causes apples to turn brown after being cut. He claims that not only makes them more attractive to the prepackaged food industry, but the apples retain their nutritional aspects longer.

He finds the BCFGA attitude frustrating, saying they are “preaching doom and gloom.”

“They don’t ever think of the other way round, that this innovation could be showing that B.C. is on the leading edge of the apple industry and is responding to consumer interest with new products,” said Carter.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, he said, has already concluded the apple presents no pest control or environmental dangers. Carter expects it to receive regulatory approval in the U.S. after this round of public commentary is completed.

The USDA findings also state that a determination of non-regulated status of Arctic apples is not expected to adversely impact foreign trade  and suggests its introduction may enhance U.S. competitiveness in global markets.

“This is what we have been expecting and saying all along. We expect them to be approved in the next 90 days or so. That is our hope,” said Carter.

While progress is slower in Canada, he expects approval here by spring 2014.

Both the BCFGA and the Canadian Horticulture Council’s Apple Working Group, a national committee of representatives from each apple growing province, have taken positions against the introduction of the Arctic Apple.

According to a 2012 survey sponsored by the BCGFA and the Quebec Apple Producers Association, the public is skeptical about GM foods.

The survey showed that 69 per cent of Canadians are not in favour of GM food and 91 per cent said GM labelling should be mandatory.

“If 76 per cent 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?” asked Dukhia.

Carter said their research, including a current program, shows the opposite.

“We’re just in the midst of completing some consumer research in shopping malls across the U.S. We are finding people extremely interested in this product,” he said. “Once the consumers have seen and experienced the product, they’re going to love it.”

Carter suggests a lack of education about biotech sciences is behind much of the opposition to his apples.

“Arctic Apples are just an apple. People are getting awfully excited about just an apple,” said Carter.

“I am excited too. I am excited the other way, though: for it to happen and people to experience this product because it’s fantastic.

“We wouldn’t put this much effort into something if we didn’t think it was worth it.”