GM apple variety submitted to CFIA for approval

An apple genetically modified to resist browning has been submitted for approval to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, with public comment accepted until July 3.

Resulting controversy has upset the apple cart among British Columbia fruit growers and those with reservations about GM technology.

For Neal Carter, orchardist and president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, the new variety is the apple of his eye. His company has the exclusive worldwide licence for use of the non-browning technology in tree fruits.

“Way back in the 1990s, we recognized that having tree fruit crops that were exciting and different certainly stimulated higher returns on the farm and at the same time we recognized that enzymatic browning in apples was something that was really impeding its progress and the consumption of apples in the marketplace,” said Carter.

His company submitted the Arctic Apple for approval in December 2011 after years of testing, some of it involving Agriculture Canada in Summerland, B.C., and more recently in Saskatoon.

Notice was posted on the CFIA website April 15.

It’s one step in a process that Carter hopes will result in approval of the apple by the spring of 2014, although Carter admits that may be optimistic.

Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), said the apple should not be approved.

“We think the GM apple is simply unnecessary,” she said.

Sharatt said B.C. apple growers have told CBAN they are not interested in growing GM apples, in part through worries over consumer backlash and damage to markets.

“So you have a marginally commercially interesting product could be a burden for a great many growers,” she said Sharratt.

Calls to the B.C. Fruit Growers Association were not returned, but Sharratt said the organization has objected to GM apples for 10 years.

Carter said there is a viable market for a non-browning apple in the fast food and fresh produce sector. He points to the success of baby carrots as an example of a new product that improved consumption.

“We saw apple consumption going down every year for 25 years and we saw the grocery stores allocating shelf space for fresh cut, and apples really weren’t participating in that at all,” he said.

Browning is the main cause for apples’ absence and the GM variety requires no dips, chemicals or other treatments to retard browning. Carter said it simply represents the “turning off” of a gene that stimulates browning.

“We are dealing with food service and fresh cut people all the time and they are just excited as heck at being able to have an apple that doesn’t have an antioxidant or treatment dip on it.”

Sharratt said the Ambrosia apple, which was conventionally bred, is also non-browning.

Objections to releasing a GM apple have sparked an online petition by B.C. MLA Lana Propham, the NDP agriculture critic.

Federal NDP agriculture critic Alex Atamanenko is also opposed.

“I believe it should not be approved,” he said May 28. “It’s a bad idea. There’s no reason for it.”

He said the GM trait has potential to spread, contaminating other apples in B.C.’s important Okanagan fruit growing region and affecting markets already under pressure from U.S. grown product.

Carter said research into GM spread has shown there is little movement of pollen by bees, particularly with measures such as non-GM hedgerows surrounding orchards.

As well, he noted apples are propagated by vegetation rather than seed, which makes gene flow easier to control.

“We’ve always known that this was going to be controversial,” said Carter. “These are going to be the most studied apples on the planet.”

Okanagan Specialty Fruits provided information to the CFIA for its public comment process. Carter said research will continue this year on 10 acres of GM apples in Washington state.

Sharratt said the public comment period is a sham because only scientific comments will be considered, and opinions on markets and economics are not part of the CFIA review process.

4 Responses

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  1. PJ Johnson on

    As the article states, there is already a non browning apple naturally produced, the Ambrosia, so why take the risk.

    • Dean on

      Of all the proposed advantages of using GM technology, this one has to be one of the worst “bang for your buck” variety. The fact that there are non browning apples available(sure not 100% white, and won’t outlast your your life) really puts into question the purpose of this variety of apple. Would consumers really want to eat sliced apples in a bag that look great, but are two years old?

      Could this be perhaps the first hurdle that GM fruit need to get through the Canadian regulatory red tape, which once done, will allow more varieties to get approved?

      You know, if the pollen from these GM apples would not contaminate non GM apple trees, I could really care less; but they do and once the genie is let out of the bottle, you can’t do a product recall on it.

  2. The apples will not cross contaminate. Apples are not seed propagated, and there are currently no tests available for checking the genetic material of the seed contents of an apple, so organic orchards have zero credible fears. With the established buffer zones between conventional and organic orchards already in place, the chance of even being able to find a GM seed caused by pollen gene flow is pretty much zero.

    The ambrosia is NOT a non browning apple. An ambrosia will lose over 80% of its vitamin C and antioxidant levels if exposed to oxygen for 24hrs. For a fresh cut industry targeting a 2 week shelf life on their products, ambrosia is not an option.

    • Dean on

      An organic apple with GM seed inside it will not be considered organic; if there isn’t a test now, there will be in the future.

      As I am a fruit breeder, who does propagate and make new varieties using seed, there will always be a threat that GM pollen could have contaminated the seedling at the time of flowering. Will I have to test each seedling to see if it is GM free before continuing on the breeding cycle? Once a GM trait gets into the advanced seedling lines of non-GM breeding, all of that material will have to be disposed of.

      It’s funny how the 30ft buffer zone that organic standards required between organic and conventional orchards are ridiculed by anti-organic people as being inadequate to prevent pesticide drift, but when things are turned around, the 30ft buffer is fine. Problem is, bees travel a lot farther than 30ft, and saying that there is a 0% chance of GM pollen contaminating Non-GM apple flowers, is ridiculous.

      Look at the images of the Granny Smith in the article, there isn’t much of a difference, certainly not something worth the risk of introducing an unknown into nature.

      Maybe apples just aren’t meant to be sliced and kept “fresh” for a year. Why do we have to fiddle with the genetic makeup of the apple just to get rid of an over supply of apples that exists?

      The science is cool, but give me a break.

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