Canada: GM apple trial sparks export fears among growers

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Canada: GM apple trial sparks export fears among growers

Canadian apple growers in British Columbia are up in arms about an application by Okanagan Specialty Fruits to grow genetically modified non-browning Arctic apples, due to fears over cross contamination.

Co-operative BC Tree Fruits sales and marketing director Rick Austin, said he felt the move would harm the industry.

"We don't believe there's a requirement for this in the market. We think offering GM apples could confuse consumers and alienate them. People are concerned about cross pollination," he told

"I don't see a good side to this at all."

He said his organization, which accounts for 85% of apple production in British Columbia, would be voicing concerns to the The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) which has asked for feedback by Jul. 3.

JIND Fruit Co president and chief operating officer Jesse Sandhu, said he saw no need for Okanagan Speciality Fruits' trials to grow non-browing apples.

"The world is not waiting for apples which don't brown. You can put lemon juice on the apples to prevent this instead of modifying the gene."

He said he didn't know where retailers in North America stood on the issue, but was concerned about how the trial might affect possible exports.

"Allowing the GM apple could jeopardize British Columbia's ability to sell fruit in places where GM imports are banned now and in future."

Currently, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Egypt have national bans on GM food. The E.U. and Australia insist all GM foods should be labelled and the E.U. has also lowered the threshold for labelling of cross contaminated food from 1% to 0.9%.

The developer's perspective

Okanagan Speciality Fruits president Neal Carter said cross contamination was not a problem.

"Pollination inflow just isn't an issue. The pollination doesn't blow, it's very strict, it will adhere to the back of a bee and the bee moves in a predictable fashion."

He said pollination gene stewardship would ensure the pollen wouldn't move very far.

"Even if you had pollination gene flow it doesn't turn the tree into an Arctic tree; the seed would have a certain amount of cross contamination, but we don't eat the seed and it's a one in a million chance."

Carter said the company had conducted two field trials in the U.S. and had applied to regulatory bodies in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and the U.S. for test blocks for commercial trials.

He said the process to gain regulatory approval would be quite slow, and if approved, it would be unlikely for trials to start until 2014 in Canada and 2013 in the U.S.

Carter said browning was a huge issue for the industry and developing a non-browning apple would be an immense asset for the fresh cut industry, the food service sector and major growers.

"People are extremely excited by the prospect of a non-browning apple. Large commercial growers know that browning is costing them millions of dollars."

He added that growing GM crops was not a hurdle for gaining GlobalG.A.P certification.

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