Poll indicates lack of information on genetically modified food

B.C. Fruit Growers' Association releases survey that shows 31 per cent in favour of Arctic Apple being given federal approval

Most Canadians want the federal government to help clear up the debate on genetically modified foods, according to a survey released this week by the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association.

The June poll surveyed 1,501 people on the topic of GM foods, and also asked specifically about the Arctic Apple. The BCFGA is trying to block the new, non-browning variety from gaining approval for commercial use from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Just 31 per cent of survey respondents said they were in favour of the apple receiving the federal go-ahead.

But more interestingly, according to BCFGA general manager Glen Lucas, 76 per cent of respondents said the federal government has not provided them enough information to make an informed decision on GM foods. Another nine per cent said they’d never even heard of GM foods.

“That’s a problem that government has to resolve before they start issuing approvals,” Lucas said.

Also of note was the 71 per cent of those surveyed who were in favour of a special, GM-free category of basic foods, such as milk, fruit and pablum. Lucas said people seem to distinguish between processed foods, like corn chips, and more wholesome selections, like apples.

“The government should make use of that information and think more carefully about the public policy,” Lucas said.

The BCFGA has been a vocal opponent of the Arctic Apple, because producers fear that if approved for commercial use by the CFIA it could cross-pollinate with other varieties and prevent them from marketing their apples as non-GMO or organic.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits president Neal Carter, whose company created the Arctic Apple, said the survey supports his mission to raise public awareness about the biotechnology industry in general.

“We really find that with education, people are far more willing to accept it or at least entertain the idea of it being part of the food business,” Carter said.

He said the company has also surveyed people’s opinions on Arctic Apples and found most were in favour of the product once they learned it is created by “switching off” a single enzyme. As for educating growers, Carter said he has not been allowed a chance to do so.

“We’ve never been able to give a presentation to the BCFGA,” he said.

“They don’t understand what we’re doing and why were doing it, so it’s bad.”

Both politicians who represent the region in Ottawa say they have taken local concerns to the federal level, although they’re stances on the Arctic Apple differ greatly.

Dan Albas, the Conservative MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla, said the science isn’t yet clear enough for him to take a position on the new fruit.

“At this time, I’m going to leave that to scientists to be able to deliberate, and then for CFIA to come to their decision,” said Albas.

Meanwhile, the NDP’s Alex Atamanenko continues to be an outspoken opponent of the Arctic Apple simply because of the perceived cross-pollination risk.

“Our fruit growers are having a hard enough time trying to survive,” said the MP for B.C. Southern Interior.  “All of a sudden to be hit with this uncertainty is ludicrous.”

The GM food survey, conducted by Leger Marketing, was jointly funded by the BCFGA and its Quebec counterpart, Lucas said, and will form part of its CFIA submission on the Arctic Apple application. The poll was taken online and the draft provided to media did not list a margin of error.