Canada: OSF slates Arctic apple production plans
U.S. authorities are yet to give the green light to Canada-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits (OSF) but the company is upbeat about a positive environmental assessment (EA) for its genetically modified, non-browning Arctic apples. At www.freshfruitportal.com, we caught up with OSF founder Neal Carter, who discussed plans for a slow start after potential deregulation for the fruit in early 2014. The company has just completed a sequencing of genetic events to satisfy Canadian regulators, which in the view of Carter will clarify the supporting science in dialogue with opposition groups.
The U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) deregulated Monsanto Company's (NYSE: MON) herbicide-resistant soybeans just a day before opening the second public comment period for OSF's apples.
This gave Carter cause for optimism based on precedent and APHIS indications, as Monsanto's approval came just over three months after its final public comment period was posted on the Federal Register.
Unlike the multinational however, OSF has a team of just seven people and has kept a frugal operation in the last 3.5 years of negotiating with government bodies.
"You hear about the multinationals that spend US$50-136 million to develop a biotech crop from start to finish, and these are the kinds of numbers the media pick up on," Carter told www.freshfruitportal.com.
"But, it can be done for a fraction of that – I wouldn't say we've done it for 100th, but definitely for less than a tenth of that cost."
"We are taking a very slow and cautious approach. Our company has always been conservative – we just want to get it out there, ensure that it’s done and that it’s done right."
He said transparency was key to success, and despite campaigns from anti-GM entities, it would be the consumer who would decide on whether genetically modified apples were worthwhile at the end of the day.
"Our consumer surveys have shown as much as 80% of people are interested in the product.
"One of the good things about the fruit business is that things start up slowly, so we’ve got time, and in that time we can be educating and working with people who are in opposition.
"We’ve found that through dialogue we’ve been able to change opinions. Our message has always been to let the consumer decide."
He said there were many people interested in growing Arctic apples but the company would start with 10 acres of planting next year, working with pre-committed growers.
"So they will be planted in the ground in 2014 and they could have a small amount of fruit in 2015," Carter said.
"After that 10 we could probably go to 50 and then to 100, but it’s not going to be like sugar beets that were deregulated and went from 0 to something like 500,000 acres.
Once the current apples under the deregulation process - Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny - get going in the market, Carter plans to start applying for the application of similar conditions to Arctic Gala, Arctic Fuji and Arctic McIntosh apples, done in the form of an extension.
In Canada, where Carter is also hopeful for deregulation this winter, once the two genetic events GD743 and GS784 are approved there would be less paperwork for the extension for other types of non-browning apples.
"Canada’s looking really good too. We had dialogue with Canada’s regulatory people and they came back to us with a lot of questions. We provided science with peer reviewed literature, and addressed all of their concerns except one."
The exception related to "blurry" images in the DNA analysis given to authorities, prompting OSF to outsource a full genetic sequencing, which concluded last week. Carter planned to prepare it this week for submission.
"This is actually going to help us as when you have anti-GM people they will raise doubt and say, 'we can’t know what we’re seeing' but now we can say, ‘no, we know exactly what’s there, we have it sequenced'," Carter explained.
Carter said the strongest application for OSF's apples would be in food service, but retail would be an important outlet as well.
"The fresh cuts they’re getting today are not bringing enough quality, and they’re finding that the antioxidants used to stop enzymatic browning have hurt the quality of the fruit - it gets a citrus zing and goes all soft.
"This would open up a huge opportunity for the apple business to get into fresh cut.
"That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to be in retail. I think they have a place in the home. In our house we cut up apples every day but browning is always an issue."
He concluded that genetic modification would be a powerful tool for the fruit industry, highlighting that OSF was currently working on such issues as fire blight resistance, scab resistance and storage scald resistance.