Federal agencies in the U.S. and Canada have not yet given approval to the non-browning Arctic apple, but a group of retailers in British Columbia have decided no matter what the government says they won’t sell the genetically-modified apples.
The pledges from the retailers came in response to a request from the Health Action Network Society, a 30-year-old non-profit organization in Burnaby, British Columbia. The group’s mission is to raise public awareness about public health issues, said Michael Volker, operations director.
“Our main concern is it hasn’t been tested,” Volker said May 14. “We wanted this to be a positive campaign, so we didn’t publish the retailers who refused to sign (the pledge). Instead we published the stores that did sign.”
Volker said of the 20 retailers, 17 are independent, one-location operations. Three are regional chains, including Choices Markets, which has seven locations.
“We have a strict policy to always source organic options first,” said Tyler Romano, marketing director for Choices Markets. “We will not knowingly support the sale of genetically modified apples in any or our locations.”
Damian Connolly, produce manager for Green’s Organic & Natural Market in Vancouver, said the store management’s rational for signing the pledge is simple.
“Our produce is 100% organic,” Connolly said. “There wasn’t really a question whether we would sell them. It’s not in line with our mantra and our mission.”
Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Summerland, British Columbia, defends the safety and nutrition of the Arctic apple. He is petitioning the Canadian and U.S. governments for permission to plant and sell the cultivar.
“Arctic apples were developed to provide consumers a choice, and we are confident that consumers will purchase Arctic apples,” Carter said May 15.
“Arctic apples will decrease waste caused by superficial browning throughout the supply chain, including in consumers’ homes. Also since Arctic apples will not need anti-oxidant treatments, fresh-cut apples will be available at a lower cost making more apples available in more places.”
Carter’s petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture included 163 pages and supporting research documents. Volker said his organization is concerned because Arctic apples have not been tested as animal feed. He also pointed to opposition from the British Columbia Fruit Growers Association, which has asked the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada to suspend consideration to allow propagation and sale of Arctic apples.
“Our concern is the negative publicity for apples in general caused by the controversy over this GM apple,” then president of the growers association Jeet Dukhia, wrote in November.
“There is potential market damage caused to apple markets if this GM apple is approved — indeed, it seems the damage is occurring even while the apple is in the regulatory process and a decision on its approval is still pending. The public thinks of apples as a pure, natural, healthy and nutritional fruit. GM apples are a risk to our market image.”
The U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va.. opposed apple, but states on its website that its concerns are not related to “human health and safety.”
“Ultimately, the future of GE (genetically engineered) apples in the United States will be determined by USDA’s decision on the two petitions and by the marketplace,” according to the U.S. Apple Association website.
“The market will have time to decide, since new apple trees take years to come into production after starting in the plant nursery and being planted in the orchard.”