GM apple meets vocal opposition in B.C.

Arctic apple | GM Free BC takes its campaign against genetically modified apple to the British Columbia legislature

More than 7,000 signatures calling for a moratorium on introduction of a genetically modified apple were tabled in the British Columbia legislature May 28 by NDP agriculture critic Nicholas Simons.


It was the latest foray by the party and by a group called GE Free BC to prevent introduction of the Arctic Apple, a non-browning apple that is now being reviewed for potential approval by the federal government.


Simons said May 30 that he had presented the petitions and now plans to clarify “whether or not the provincial government will follow up on its commitment to conduct a study as requested by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities on the impact of the introduction of the genetically modified apple into the British Columbia marketplace.”


Simons said provincial agriculture minister Norm Letnick hasn’t yet responded to the petitions or his question about a study.


“I think that maybe they were sort of hoping that they could just put this one off to the federal government,” said Simons.


Approval of genetically modified foods is a federal jurisdiction. The Arctic Apple is under federal review in both Canada and the United States, and its developer and marketer, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, had been hoping for approval by this spring. However, no announcement has been made.


Letnick said in a May 30 interview that he had discussed concerns about the Arctic Apple, conveyed to him by B.C. fruit growers, with federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz.


“It’s a federal decision. At the end of the day, the federal government will look at the science of the apple and make a determination,” said Letnick.


Asked if the province would undertake a review, Letnick said that it is awaiting the federal decision and in the meantime would focus on areas of provincial jurisdiction.


Tony Beck, a spokesperson for GE Free BC, said the 7,000 signatures on the petitions, and another 5,000 collected two years ago, speak to B.C. residents’ concerns about release of the GM apple and the need for a provincial study.


“In response to the petitions or the numerous requests we’ve made for meetings with Mr. Letnick or with the ministry of agriculture about this issue, basically we’ve had no response from them. And this is something they promised they would do at the end of 2012,” Beck said.


Lack of public consultation in approval of genetically modified foods is a primary concern for his group, said Beck. As well, there are worries about cross-pollination between GM apples and other varieties, and the potential effect on apple trade and exports.


Okanagan Specialty Fruits has said the Arctic Apple is not a threat to other varieties and has the potential to increase sales of fresh apples because of its non-browning property.


Beyond their demands for a moratorium on the apple, GE Free BC proponents have been encouraging municipalities to declare themselves free of genetically engineered crops, though such resolutions are not enforceable.


However, motions of that kind do indicate to farmers that GM crops are not wanted in jurisdictions that have made the declaration. 


Beck said the group is now encouraging municipalities to register objections to GM crops through avenues they can enforce, such as a non-GE purchasing policy recently introduced in Duncan, B.C.

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