Although technology plays an important role at every stage in the fresh produce supply chain, the seed industry may tout more types of technology than any other.
Seed breeder-producers are now using marker-assisted breeding, genetic modification, the addition of nutrients to develop nutraceutical varieties and new technologies around food safety — and that’s just the development phase.
In the fresh produce category, very few commodities are bred using genetic modification.
In other categories, like field crops, and in other countries, GMOs are much more prevalent. Seed breeder-producers in the fresh produce category are still cautious about their use of GMO technology because consumers in the U.S. have not embraced it.
“There are a lot of efforts out across the globe to look at the possibility of using GMO in fresh vegetable products,” said Andy LaVigne, president and chief executive officer of the American Seed Trade Association. “In India and China, they use it strictly for production purposes.”
By and large, U.S. consumers don’t understand GMOs and aren’t ready to accept them, said Kelly Keithly, president of Keithly-Williams Seeds.
Lisa Zaglin, marketing director for Feasterville, Pa.-based Abbott & Cobb Inc.., said that attitude is changing.
“We believe the picture will change in those areas around the world that have the greatest economic need for higher quality and cheaper food sources,” Zaglin said. “GMO is not intrinsically unsafe, but until consumers have other economic reasons to accept them, they can afford to avoid them.”
Basel, Switzerland-based Syngenta AG’s Bt sweet corn remains the only large-scale use of GMO technology in fresh produce.
“The genetically modified sweet corn is focused at this time on the roadside market on the East Coast,” said Andreas Steiner, director of marketing for Syngenta. “Those growers produce an extremely high quality sweet corn that doesn’t have a very long shelf life. These varieties are extremely attractive to insects.”
The Bt sweet corn is bred with its own pesticide so that it can repel insects without extensive pesticide treatments. The company plans to unveil a new generation of the Bt sweet corn very soon, Steiner said.
Keithly-Williams Seeds distributes the Bt sweet corn, and Keithly said growers are very receptive to it, except when their customers demand non-GMO produce.
“Pretty much all (growers) are at some stage of looking at Bt sweet corn,” said Wayne Gale, president and co-owner of Thorold, Ontario-based seed distributor Stokes Seeds Ltd. “Genetically modifying is becoming more common in sweet corn. Syngenta is the only company with GMO sweet corn, but that will probably change at some point.”