GM apple on its way to market following regulatory approval

The Canadian developer of a genetically modified non-browning apple is happy it has been approved for commercial release in Canada as of March 20.

Neal Carter of Okanagan Specialty Fruits said March 23 that limited quantities of apples with the brand name Arctic Apple will be available to consumers in late 2017.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada announced approval of the GM apple in a news release stating they are “as safe and nutritious as traditional apple varieties.”

“As much as we always knew and were very confident that we were going to get approval, it’s nice to see it happen,” said Carter.

Groups that object to release of the GM apple denounced the government approval and pending availability of the Golden Delicious and Granny Smith Arctic apple varieties.

“The majority of consumers and farmers didn’t want the GM apple approved, and yet the federal government has decided to allow it, so now we need to find out what that means in the marketplace,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN).

“We think growers are right to be very concerned about the consumer perception of apples and the impact that a GM apple will have on the whole market for apples.”

Arctic apples were developed to retain their colour up to 15 days after slicing. Carter said that opens up new markets for fresh apple use and will reduce waste.

The CFIA and Health Canada announced approval of the GM apple in a news release stating they are “as safe and nutritious as traditional apple varieties.” Do you agree?

The apples will bear an Arctic Apple sticker but will not be otherwise identified as genetically modified.

That doesn’t sit well with CBAN.

“A key issue for the GM apple is the lack of labelling. That’s what we know. We know consumers want a choice and they can’t find that clear choice,” Sharratt said.

“All of a sudden one of nature’s most perfect foods, that they rely on as wholesome, fresh, healthy … for whatever reason, a majority of consumers have an issue with a genetically modified apple, don’t want to eat it and can’t find out how to avoid it, or are struggling to find a way to avoid it in the grocery store.”

Sharratt said the GM apple will mislead consumers into thinking an apple is fresh when it is not.

Carter said the apples are safe and could capitalize on consumer trends toward eating healthier food.

He said he plans to introduce the apples into the food service, fresh cut and whole apple markets when supply is available.

“Now what we need to do is get going on getting the Canadian trees built in Canada by the Canadian nurseries and get that stepped up,” he said.

The goal is to plant 25,000 trees in Canada next year, though that might be hindered by a general shortage of rootstock.

The Arctic apple was approved for commercial release in the United States in February.

Sharratt said Canadian consumers have been derisive of the non-browning apple, and growers have been explaining the two GM varieties that will be available.

“All of a sudden we have grower groups essentially opening the door to a boycott of apple varieties,” she said. “They’re already having to undermine their own market position in order to protect the rest of the apple varieties.”

Carter said many growers interested in growing GM apples have contacted him, and demand already exceeds the supply of stock available from which to grow them.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits is based in Summerland, B.C., and recently became a wholly owned subsidiary of Intrexon Corp., a synthetic biology company based in Maryland.

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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