Schlect Chris blog post● USDA announced last Friday its deregulation of a Canadian firm’s–Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Inc.–two varieties (Granny Smith and Golden) of GMO apples, one day in advance of a three-day weekend. This is not unusual timing for controversial announcements by federal agencies. It almost guarantees a muted response in the media.

Having said this, responsible articles on the subject of Arctic Apples, the trade name for these two GMO products, did appear on Saturday in most national media, such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and National Public Radio.

I think the buying public will be reassured by the fact the no GMO apples are in the marketplace now, nor will they be for some time into the future. However, I do think apples, as a result of USDA’s approval action, will be featured in the coming debate in Congress over national GMO food labeling legislation.

Aside from pending labeling issues, the next question is, “how many orchardists actually will plant the non-browning GMO apples given the commercial marketing obstacles that seem to lie ahead?”

● Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared on February 12 that the deadly multistate outbreak involving Listeria monocytogenes and caramel apples was at an apparent end, with the results of the investigation of the incident by the Food and Drug Administration still pending.

● U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez was sent this past weekend by President Obama to the labor negotiations that have led to a virtual shutdown of West Coast ports. This is a belated recognition by the Administration of the tremendous economic harm being done by this egregious labor dispute. Just in our sliver of the national economy, fruit growers and shippers, as well as allied industries, such as independent truckers, have suffered severely by irretrievable losses of export sales during a year of record production.

● On my travel horizon: I leave late at night on the last Saturday of this month for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to attend the 2015 Global Food Safety Conference. This visit will also provide an opportunity for me to meet with Chris Rittgers, the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service officer assigned to both Malaysia and Singapore, about local food safety rules affecting U.S. fruit imports.

● Nick Ashmore was one of the first Capitol Hill staffers I met in the early 1980s soon after I joined the Northwest Horticultural Council. He was the agricultural expert on Mr. Foley’s staff, which meant something, since Mr. Foley traveled up the political leadership trail until he reached its summit as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Mr. Ashmore had a gruff exterior and delighted in making contrarian arguments, arguments often playfully made but always in a decidedly Southern accent. He served as the “no” man and gatekeeper to agricultural lobbyists pleading for special favors from the genial Tom Foley.

After he retired from the Hill, he helped guide the Washington State Tree Fruit Research Commission through the labyrinth of federal agricultural research policy and funding. Nick Ashmore died last week of cancer. He and I had been friends for over 30 years.