Okanagan takes bite out of plan for genetically modified apple

Politicians in South Okanagan ask feds to nix application to grow non-browning Arctic Apple

An impassioned plea by a local politician has helped galvanize opposition to an application that would give the go-ahead to genetically modified apples.

Allan Patton on Thursday convinced his colleagues on the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen to adopt a motion to register its disapproval of the Arctic Apple.

“Vote in favour of (the motion) or give the finger to the organic growers and the commercial growers,” Patton said.

Summerland-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits in April filed an application with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to allow commercial growing of its non-browning Arctic Apple. Approval is needed because the variety was created through genetic modification. The public comment period closes July 3.

The RDOS board unanimously approved a motion that calls for it to investigate a GMO-free zone and request that the CFIA reject the Arctic Apple application. Patton’s first motion, which failed, called for the outright establishment of a GMO-free zone. However, the RDOS has no authority to enforce such a measure.

Regardless, Patton called on the board to make a statement “to the federal government that they should not be nonchalantly allowing these (GMO) registrations when it affects our industry to the (extent) it does.”

The director for rural Oliver said the risk of cross-pollination of traditional varieties with genetically-modified strains puts the entire Okanagan fruit industry in jeopardy.

“Whether you like GMOs or not, whether you believe in the science or not, this is the reality that’s facing us right now,” said Patton, a fruit grower. “There are countries that will restrict us from sending our crops to them if we have GMO-contaminated fruit, or even thought we had GMO-contaminated fruit.”

Other directors wondered how the motions would affect farmers who already grow GMOs, such as Roundup Ready corn, but ultimately voted in favour of studying the issue further, while maintaining opposition to the Arctic Apple.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits president Neal Carter, who was at the meeting, said it was “frustrating” to listen to the debate unfold and not be able to jump in.

Patton’s presentation was “full of misinformation,” Carter said.

“Right now, the decisions are being carried by fear, not science or real data.”

He acknowleged the motion won’t help the Arctic Apple’s application and simply highlights the importance of explaining the company’s position.

“We have our message and we’re working pretty hard to deliver it,” Carter said.

“Our message is that the regulatory bodies will do a very thorough review, and ultimately if they decide that Arctic Apples don’t present an environmental or food safety risk, which is our anticipation, then let the consumer decide.”

He expects the CFIA to rule on the application in 2014.

Apple grower Joe Sardinha, who also attended Thursday’s meeting with about a dozen other GMO opponents, applauded the RDOS decision.

“It’s a baby step, but it’s a good step in the right direction,” he said.

But Sardinha, former president of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, said concern is misplaced on the science of cross-pollination, when it should be squarely focused on consumer perception.

Even if genetically-modified apples do not contaminate other varieties he said, the mere presence of GMOs could contaminate the Okanagan fruit’s “pristine reputation.”

Six local governments in B.C. have established themselves as GMO-free zones, the most recent being Richmond, where city council on May 28 adopted the policy.