Northwest Hort Council cites ‘marketing issues’ in opposing Arctic apples
The Arctic Granny Smith
Courtesy Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Inc.
The Northwest Horticultural Council has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture not to approve a petition that would allow production and marketing of two nonbrowning apple varieties developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Inc., of Summerland, British Columbia, Canada.
The nonbrowning traits were introduced into Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties using genetic engineering techniques. The inserted genetic material is a mirror image of the gene that makes the enzyme, polyphenol oxidase, that causes browning and “silences” it.
In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Christian Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, said that “the projected commercial benefits of a nonbrowning apple (which we feel are limited) are clearly outweighed by the marketing problems that the entire United States apple industry would confront should these two GE products be allowed into commercial apple production.”
The council represents tree fruit growers, packers, and marketers in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
“While we do not think any human health issue exists with consumption of these GE apples, we do anticipate severe adverse marketing issues to confront both organic and traditional apple growers should they be allowed into the general marketplace,” the letter to Vilsack said. The council added that it is open to supporting similar future petitions should benefits clearly supersede potential marketing risks.
About a year ago, Okanagan Specialty Fruits petitioned the USDA for nonregulated status for the apples it developed using gene-silencing techniques discovered in 1998. The company developed the varieties, Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny, about five years ago and has been evaluating them since.
In a memo to Nancy Foster, president of the U.S. Apple Association, with copies to apple industry leaders, Schlect said it would be helpful if USApple took the same or similar position and asked that it be considered at the March 12 meeting of the board of directors.
About a month before the Northwest Horticultural Council action, members of the British Columbia Fruit Growers' Association passed a resolution stating its position at its annual convention January 27-28.
“Our position is, we’re not willing to embrace these apples or the technology behind them,” said Joe Sardinha, a Summerland, British Columbia, apple grower and president of the fruit growers’ association. “We’re not arguing about whether it’s safe. It’s all about market perception, consumer perception. The apple enjoys a pristine image. Why would we want to mess with that?”
Sardinha said the British Columbia growers had made their position known, and he’d like the Canadian industry as a whole to endorse that position. It was expected to be a topic at the Canadian Horticultural Council meeting in Ottawa March 8-11, he said.
Neal Carter, the president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, responded by saying "the NWHC letter is very unfortunate and certainly doesn't reflect the opinion of all in our industry." In an interview with Good Fruit Grower last fall, Carter, an apple grower himself, explained that the Arctic apples would not only be cosmetically better because they don’t turn brown when cut or bruised, they would be nutritionally better as well. The enzyme responsible for browning actually attacks antioxidants and phenolics and destroys these beneficial compounds.
Fewer losses would occur in the picking, packing, transporting, and marketing processes, where bruising occurs.
Rather than depress apple consumption, he said, it would likely increase consumer use of convenient apple slices that could be made with fewer chemical preservatives.
No “foreign” genes from other plants were used; the apple gene that causes browning was turned end to end to act as an allele that canceled the effect of the browning gene.
The 800 British Columbia growers produce apples in a narrow valley that is relatively low in pest pressure, and they are working to capitalize on this advantage. On the Web site www.bcfga.com, they said their advantage is the low pest populations that comes from isolation and the dry northern climate.
“B.C. fruit growers are leaders in new environmentally friendly crop protection methods. We utilize highly efficient irrigation systems to conserve and manage water, Integrated Pest Management, and other innovations such as areawide programs for codling moth and starling control. We are pioneering the Sterile Insect Release (SIR) technology for one of the world's worst apple and pear pests—the codling moth,” according to the Web site.
Organic growers, who are opposed to genetic modification by means other than plant breeding, have also spoken out against the Arctic apples. In their view, pollen from these apples would be carried by bees, and the resulting apples could lose their organic certification.
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