Opinion: how GM non-browning apples could benefit growers

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Opinion: how GM non-browning apples could benefit growers

By Okanagan Specialty Fruits president and founder Neal Carter

Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc (OSF) is a small grower-led agricultural biotechnology company based out of British Columbia, Canada. Our specialization is developing tree fruit varieties with novel attributes that benefit fruit producers and consumers alike.

Crop biotechnology has provided substantial benefits to global agriculture, both environmentally and economically. For a current example of this, PG Economics recently released the results of a 15-year global study that found:

Global farm income gains from crop biotechnology have been US$78.4 billion (1996-2010) – the majority of which went to farmers in developing countries;

In 2010 alone, biotech crops were responsible for the equivalent reduction of removing 8.6 million cars from the road for a year;

Crop biotechnology has reduced pesticide spraying (1996-2010) by 438 million kilograms and there are many other benefits outlined in this study and others.

Our goal is to take advantage of the benefits that biotechnology can provide, and apply them to the tree fruit industry; beginning with the introduction of a non-browning trait into apples and other fruits.

Non-browning benefits

The relatively simple science behind Arctic Apples, our flagship project, introduces a non-browning trait into the apple, which we can achieve with any apple variety. Enzymatic browning is caused by a chemical reaction that is triggered by cell injury, such as bruising, biting or cutting the fruit. We have simply "silenced" the gene sequence that initiates this reaction.

Growers and packers will benefit from non-browning apples through fewer culls and higher grade packouts, as fruit will not show finger marks or bin rubs, is more suitable to mechanical harvesting and will have less bruising from packing line handling. Retailers will experience less shrinkage, foodservice operators will save preparation time and labor costs and freshcut processors will find nonbrowning apples dramatically reduce their costs and improve product quality. Consumers will have more convenient access to the most requested packaged produce item in the United States (according to an August 2011 study by the Produce Marketing Association) and will have more at-home menu and snack options.

It is a very exciting time for OSF, as Arctic Apples are progressing through the U.S.  and Canadian regulatory processes. In the meantime, we are working with commercial partners to conduct commercial scale testing, and this will lead to opportunities to share our Arctic Apples with consumers.

More fruit projects

One of the reasons that we are excited with the progress of Arctic Apples is all the other great projects currently in our pipeline just waiting to be developed. The ability to silence the genes that initiate browning is not unique to apples, and we also have proof of the concept for non-browning cherries and pears.

The off-coloring of cherry fruit flesh, pitting and the browning of stems are common post harvest quality concerns among growers, packers, exporters and importers. OSF is one of the first groups ever to successfully transform sweet cherries, and a nonbrowning Arctic Cherry is just the beginning.

OSF is also one of the first to transform peaches, and the first unique variety we are working on could add resistance to the plum pox virus which has devastated the industry and is wide spread in Europe. Additional plans for fire blight resistant apples and pears mean that we will be kept busy for some time, as the possibilities for added tree fruit benefits are endless.

As much as we wish we could do all of these things at once, we are a small company and have to keep most of our focus on bringing Arctic Apples to market. We’re excited to move forward with all of our projects as quickly as we can.

For more details about the company's activities visit Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc online.


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