Further GM apple review not necessary

This is a response by Robert Saik to the Op-Ed published (in The Western Producer) Sept. 4 entitled, “Public review urged for GM apple,” by British Columbia New Democrat agriculture critic and MLA Nicholas Simons.

As I read this article, I got the feeling that Mr. Simons was either unaware of many of the facts regarding the due diligence that is done with respect to GMO crops, or was fear-mongering, or was playing politics, or all of the above.

This July I spent time in Summerland, B.C., with the Okanagan Specialty Fruits team, including founder Neal Carter.

I was impressed by the volume of work and the immense cost involved in bringing a genetically modified crop such as Arctic apples to market.

So when I read the Op-Ed where Simon says, “Public review urged for GM apple,” and that he is “concerned about the prospect of a company in B.C. introducing a genetically modified apple into the marketplace without any prior health, environmental or economic impact assessment,” I thought that he simply did not have all the facts ….

These apples, called Arctic apples, are subject to an incredibly rigorous federal review process that has already been underway for nearly three years and examines a wide variety of risk factors.

These apples have been grown in field trials for more than a decade, and are likely the most tested apple on the planet. There are literally hundreds of pages of publicly available documents detailing the testing that’s been performed, most of which has been carried out by independent horticultural specialists.


There are even official government assessments published last November from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, another federal agency reviewing these apples, which discuss at great length how and why Arctic apples will not present any environmental risks.

Among these reasons is the fact that these apples grow, flower and re-spond to pests the same as their conventional counterparts.

Testing has also proven that they have the same nutrition as their conventional counterparts and contain no novel proteins.

The only difference is that Arctic apples produce less of a single en-zyme, polyphenol oxidase, which causes apples to brown when bitten, sliced or bruised.

This small change can result in a wide range of benefits including reducing food waste, boosting apple consumption due to increased convenience and reducing the need for anti-browning treatments in dried and fresh cut apple products.

Nicholas Simons has allied himself with a group called GE Free B.C., who, per their own mission statement, envision a “Canada where no genetically engineered life forms are created, patented, approved, bought, sold or traded.”


To me, missions such as this simply choose to ignore the vast benefits to farmers, the environment and consumers provided by GM technology.

This is not exactly the most even-keeled reaction to the fastest adopted crop technology in history, especially one that has an impeccable safety record, with no documented negative health effects since its introduction.

He calls on B.C. minister of agriculture Norm Letnick to carry out a review of Arctic apples and criticizes him for his plans to “rely entirely on the federal government to develop a position on genetically modified apples” when in fact, the regulation of GM crops is completely under federal jurisdiction.

Letters such as this spread inaccuracies about a science that has been in use for almost three decades, has allowed farmers to adopt more sustainable cropping systems and is one of the safest food technologies ever to be served to consumers.

Robert Saik is a professional agrologist and certified agriculture consultant


  • Sheryl McCumsey

    Again, is this an ad?? No information about why people are concerned about Genetically Modified products are in this article….no other side to this statement. We are supposed to accept these statements without any evidence? Where is the evidence? I personally prefer to KNOW when my apple browns as it is an indicator to me how fresh that apple is….this does not benefit the consumer at all. Many of the growers in this region did not want this. This article is missing a lot of information about the precision of this science which is lacking….the reason antibiotic resistant genes are required to mark the desired DNA is because this is the only way to know if the DNA is actually present in the plant cell. This science belongs in a laboratory not on our dinner plates. It is interesting to note that this enzyme may very well protect the apple from fungal disease…..we do not know the long term implications of these products!

    • Sheryl – this article is the OPINION of Mr. Saik, a professional agrologist, and is cleary labelled so. It appears in the “Opinion” section of this week’s paper, on page 11. An “op-ed” piece, as they are often called, does not require the same level of balance and objectivity normally present in stories that run elsewhere in our paper. It is, simply, the writer’s strongly-held opinion, and as such is as welcome here as yours or any other.

      Paul – WP web ed

      • Sheryl McCumsey

        Thank you for posting my comments.

  • Rob Bright

    The author clearly doesn’t understand that no long term studies can be carried out on GMOs until they have been consistently and properly identified in our food products. (How do you keep track of a food substance when that substance is not even labeled?) There have been no long term studies on the effects of GMOs. There is no federal testing in Canada — we simply take our cue from the US regulators, so if they say it’s safe, we just rubber stamp it and follow along blindly. (This, despite the fact that the US regulatory system has been proven to be corrupted and infiltrated by the revolving door system — see Michael Taylor as only one of many examples of this.) To tout GMOs as completely and properly tested is to ignore the obvious: that biotech corporations like Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, Bayer have utterly thwarted the US regulatory system by infiltrating and corrupting it. This article misses the point about GMO safety and testing altogether.

    • Saskroughian

      No long term studies? No labeling? Virtually all corn and soy and canola and cotton in mainstream agriculture has been genetically modified to reduce the need for herbicides and insecticides – for about a decade. Previous to that there was intensive testing done for a decade before registration was ever allowed. There is no food that has ever been ingested by humans that has ever been tested more completely and repetitively than GMO corn. If an actual bonafide scientific test that was publishable and repeatable ever produced a negative result, the whole world would know about it quickly, because there are billions of dollars to be gained by the chemical companies if genetics can no longer be used to control the pests, and our reduced soil/air/water quality would be evident right away. Beyond the research, it shows up in almost everything we eat, from flour to sweeteners, starches, fillers, etc. Still no research to show a negative consequence, and no examples in society where it has been harmful. Increasing longevity, exponentially more centurians than ever before. Less cancer deaths per capita than ever before. All this while we get obese on our sugar loaded diets and quit being active. Yet GMO is the fight? At what point do the fear mongers need to find something new to slander? This reminds me of those who argued that the earth was actually flat, for twenty years after the earth was proven to be a sphere. I wonder what kind of proof it eventually took to get them to concede? Come to think of it, there is still a Flat Earth Society in BC.

      • richard

        Yes sir, and that beautiful sphere has now been infected with fifty shades of ag biz hubris…..all “proven safe”…..Can you spell watersheds contaminated with nitrates, phosphates, agrotoxins, pharma….. BSE, BST, CWD, CJD, PDE….. herbicide, pesticide resistance and antibiotic resistance…..obesity, diabetes, heart disease, auto-immune dysfunction, all sponsored by modern food technix and blind subservience to “science”…… And you wonder why increasingly educated citizens are suspect of your GMO dogma? Your right there still is a flat earth society and its called modern science…..better living through denial.

        • Casey Miller

          This comment is hilarious , considering the size of the scientific consensus. A consensus GREATER than Climate Change. It’s you who is being a creationist.

          • richard

            Then why dont you refute at least one of the aforementioned agribiz PR disasters…..?

  • Sheryl McCumsey

    EVERY single GMO has an antibiotic resistant marker because there is no other way to see whether or not that DNA is in the cell. This science is in it’s infancy. Considering how studies show that the infections we are unable to treat (which has caused many deaths here and worldwide) have the same DNA sequencing seen in livestock… It is interesting to note how slowly Health Canada is to react to these serious issues: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/health-canada-s-quiet-move-to-end-use-of-antibiotics-to-fatten-up-animals-1.2700972

  • Sheryl McCumsey

    In this publication Kanamycin is one of few drugs to treat an illness that is increasing worldwide and fewer and fewer options to treat exist…to place such genetic information into our food is risky, unknown and unnecessary. http://www.currytbcenter.ucsf.edu/tbdruginfo/docs/tbdruginfo2ndEd.pdf

  • Here’s a few problems with the genetically engineered apple:

    – Moving new genes into a plant can change the plant in unexpected ways.
    – an antibiotic resistance marker gene is used.
    – 69% of Canadians don’t want to eat the GM apple, according to a 2012 poll.
    – There are already naturally slow-browning apples, like the BC Ambrosia
    – The GM “non-browning” apple will be misleading to consumers because it
    will look fresh when it’s not, it does not brown for up to 15-18 days,
    but will decay as a normal apple.
    – The BC Fruit Growers Association, conventional and organic BC apple growers oppose the GM apple.
    – The U.S. Apple Association does not support the approval of this product.
    – Contamination from GM apples is a risk to organic apples and to the market for all BC and Canadian apple producers.
    – The Washington-based Northwest Horticultural Council has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop the GM apple
    – 72 stores in BC have pledged not to sell the GM apple.
    – The federal government has not consulted with farmers and consumers
    and federal regulators do not consider economic or social concerns
    before they approve any new GM crop.
    – Every cell of the genetically engineered tree would have the transgene –
    meaning that leaves, tree prunings and dropped fruit would deposit the
    transgene complex onto the soil surface.

    Okanagan Speciality Fruits has not conducted any animal feeding trials to test the safety of eating the GM apple. If approved, they will market GE versions of Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Fuji and Gala apples, with plans for GE peaches, cherries and pears with different traits.

    Health Canada does not do any independent testing on GM foods, but relies on information submitted by the company seeking approval.

    No one wants the GM apple and no one needs it.

    • Denise

      The public has to take action to stop this invasion.
      Boycotting “conventional “GE, pesticide -sprayed apples is the only option available to us ,at this time in agricultural history.
      Consumers have “the power” to bring about change.
      Organic apples are available in all major grocery store chains now. They are delicious,juicy, and safe for your children to eat.. Organic apples are not expensive. A few pennies more buys a lot of peace of mind.
      Conventional pesticide -ladened apples top the list, in fruit and veggies section, for having the most chemicals in them and the chemicals CAN’T be washed off.
      Genetic engineering alters the DNA in the cell ,as Sheryl and GE FreeBC explained.
      We don’t know some of the long term chronic-effects from being the guinea pigs for these out-of -control, poorly regulated ,biotech and agri- chemical companies.
      But the evidence is mounting from chronic health issues appearing in people,at younger and younger ages. As well, we now have new, previously unheard of ,autoimmune disorders.
      It’s a good feeling knowing you and your family are injesting something healthy for your body ,instead of wondering: Hmmmm.. I wonder what toxic chemicals have been sprayed on this apple or genetic manipulation been done to it.

      • Denise

        Sorry for the spelling mistake. It should be: ingesting ,not injesting.

    • The REAL Ph.D. in the room

      Ahem, I think I need to clear up some GRAVE misunderstandings in the comments here… and for the record I am not a shill for agrobusiness but at Ph.D. scientist who grew up in the Okanagan. Through my training, I actually understands the technology used by Neal Carter to produce the Arctic Apple.

      So let’s start at the beginning. Old GMO plant technology was horrible, it involved use of antibiotic resistance genes (which nowadays are removed before the modified plant is allowed to be test planted) and Monsanto and others used it to make plants resistant to herbicides primarily to well… sell more herbicide. Furthermore, “genes” did end up transferred to non GMO crops as at least one or two Prairie farmers can attest too. This unfortunately has made EVERYONE on the planet a little wary of GMO crops.

      Now the science part: Plants like many organisms use small molecules called small interference RNAs that regulate gene expression. It is a natural process and has been co-opted by scientists to study gene function by “knocking-down” a genes expression, which results in less protein made. This is such an amazing feat of nature that the scientists that discovered the process won the Nobel Prize (go google it…).

      The Arctic Apple (the fruit, I am talking about) is in fact not genetically modified at all, which is the genius part of this story. The DNA of that apple has not been modified, there is no change that is heritable or that can lead to cross-pollination etc. So how can that be, you might ask?

      IN FACT, the tree trunk (root stock) of the tree has been modified. This root stock cannot not be propogated in the wild by cross-pollination of other trees. The tree root stock expresses not a new protein but a small interference RNA directed against the enzyme that makes the apple turn brown. This tree does not produce fruit.

      Now, when you graft ANY apple variety to the tree stock, the resulting apples have a dramatically reduced level of this “rusting” enzyme due to the RNA in the trunk of the tree that then moves throughout the sap of the tree and enters the fruit.

      The genius part is that the apple blossoms, pollen, and seeds of the apple remain 100% UNMODIFIED. So you could plant the seeds of the apple and (if it was a variety that will grow from seed, which many are not) the resulting tree would not have the small interference RNA. So the FRUIT IS NOT GENETICALLY MODIFIED.

      So please quit scary mongering based on pseudoscience, half truths and plain ignorance. This is a brilliant story, that as a Canadian (and from the Okanagan to boot!) I am really proud of and I hope it makes it to market. Frankly, I was worried about the US, as if the Arctic Apple is approved in the US, then every bloody apple grown in Washington would eventually end up being grown on Arctic Apple root stock and that means royalties to a Canadian company. Sweet revenge for decades of Washington apples flooding the BC market and nearly destroying the apple fruit industry in B.C.

      Thanks for you attention if you made it to the end of this post.

  • Andrea Hessedenz

    Well I won’t be eating it!!!!

  • The Gene Revolution is about an incredible threat to our collective health and about the success of genetic engineering in Agriculture. Almost all modified crops are engineered to survive one or more sprays of the herbicide RoundUp. Glyphosate the active ingredient in Roundup bounced into our world in 1964. It was invented by a small chemical company developing a line of pipe and industrial boiler cleaners. It is a small molecule, amazingly strong as a chelator, very good at what it does. Next to any biological system, it is deadly toxic by starving organisms of essential minerals in their food chain. Glyphosate competes for metal ions and so it impairs or prevents the essential activity of most metallo-proteins (the enzymes that make your cells hum together) by robbing those metal ions – particularly manganese, magnesium and cobalt. It’s in the rain, in the water and in the food, even in mother’s milk. Our food chain is badly contaminated. What do you suggest we can do about that ?

  • Leslye Gower

    I’d rather eat brown apples.

  • ed

    If you are going to eat one each day, why worry about browning. Just make sure what you eat isn’t GMO.

  • Disbelief

    I cannot help but think how arrogantly GM’ers reassure us that we peons shouldn’t meddle.
    Sounds to me like GM’ers think they are somehow closer to god, and their staggeringly naive forays into genes and DNA which the infinitely and vastly more intelligent ‘mother nature’ has mastered, we should patronizingly accept. My take: GM’ers have profound delusions of grandeur and are no different than policemen. Nobody listened to them in high school and now they’re going to show us whose boss

  • Science exists for the sole purpose of proving itself wrong.
    Got that?
    What is held in high regard today is inevitably reduced to garbage tomorrow.
    That is just the way it is with “science”.
    And no one has successfully argued the fact.