National Editor Tom Karst recently chatted with Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., Summerland, B.C. Okanagan Specialty Fruits is seeking U.S. and Canadian approval of what would be the first genetically engineered apple brought to market in North America.
Tom Karst: What is the evolution of how growers and others in the supply chain feel about genetically engineered apples, particularly the Arctic apple? I know there has been some negative response in the past. Has that changed or is the industry unconvinced at this point?
CarterNeal Carter: Probably the most common thing we hear is that they don’t have any issue over the science. They are not against GM or biotech derived crops, they are just concerned about the market, consumer backlash or consumer response and how that might impact the industry. That’s a very common statement we hear.
I’m an apple grower too, and it has always been a big concern for us as a company. But what we have been doing over this last year or more is a lot of educating, a lot of one-on-one meeting with key industry participants — growers, packers, shippers, sales desks, brokers and others.
In general, we have some very favorable responses. There is a lot of interest in an apple that doesn’t need an antioxidant dip and can be used in a whole range of fresh-cut and foodservice applications. There was a lot of excitement from foodservice on it. The people who are ready to go and want to slice and dice them right away, I get nervous because I wonder if they are giving sufficient concern to the consumer side of the question.
We always bring that up. We are very transparent and we are pushing pretty hard that, any testing (that) is done, it is all done properly. I think it is coming forward in a positive way. I think the educating work we are doing with industry in particular is waylaying some of the fears. People realize we are not going to have 1,000 acres of these planted overnight and suddenly there are all sorts of Arctic apples around, and a potential for a negative impact on the apple business.
What we are trying to do now is move from having field trials that we grew Arctic apple trees for regulatory data to having test blocks done by select growers so we can produce a little more fruit so we can go to the next step of test marketing and having some apples to do some of this work with. It is not wholesale release and everybody is going to start planting Arctic apples.
Karst: What about labeling Arctic apples? If the Arctic apple is approved and commercialized, will it have to be labeled as genetically engineered on fresh-cut bags and such?
Carter: As a company, we have taken the stand that Arctic apples will be labeled. They will have our Arctic logo on them, they will have the PLU code, and the first digit will be starting with nine, which indicates that it is genetically engineered. So our position is a bit contrary to the overall industry of biotech crops and the FDA, which is that labeling is not required. We want people to come to look for Arctic apples. It will be, in the longterm, to our benefit.