Karst chat with Neal Carter: On the GM Arctic apple

01/07/2011 03:26:18 PM
Tom Karst

11:49 a.m. Karst: How do you tell your story? How do you win the battle of public opinion?

11:49 a.m. Carter: I like to define our company as grower supported family sized company, so we don’t exactly have a large communications or public relations department. So we are a small company tackling a pretty big undertaking. We have a lot of people who want to succeed and are willing to help us with that and of course we are working with communication and public relation people to help. I think coming into 2011, I think probably one of our biggest undertaking is that as we move toward the public comment period for the Arctic apple submissions, we will have press releases and information packages we will put out in advance of that. The current media thing has caught us a little by surprise. It happened six or eight months prior to when we thought it would happen, so what we’re trying to do now is wait and let its turn its course and then go back to our original plan and try to regain our own proactive approach to how we will protect our message and value position. One of the things that we have been able to identify is that having people experience this apple is a huge part of our communications strategy. Once somebody has held an Arctic golden or granny in their hand and looked at it and say it looks like an apple and tastes like an apple, but the cool thing is that it doesn’t go brown. It is a pretty strong story and individual experience and I think you will see will be incorporating that quite a bit (in our message.)

11:50 a.m. Karst: One question people have is what would happen if these Arctic varieties are planted next to other commercial non-GMO varieties. What kind of reaction would non-GMO varieties have to this Arctic apple?

11:51 a.m. Carter: There are a few main points. One, the apples are bee-pollinated they are not pollinated by wind. So we put the bees in the orchard about every 50 feet; we have pollinizer trees in orchards about every 50 feet. So, the bees don’t travel great distances and nor does the pollen. If you had an Arctic golden row next to a normal golden row, you might see some cross pollination on that first row but beyond that you would see very little. The second thing is that the only place where you would have any of the Arctic apple transgenes – when I say the term transgene, that essentially means the portion of the DNA that reflects some change from its parent – and that is about 800 base pairs out of 770 million. We’re talking about a very infinitesimal, a small amount of DNA change. And the only place that (change) would manifest itself is in the seed. So a golden delicious apple next to an Arctic golden could potentially have some level of expression in the seed. We know apple trees are not seed derived; they are propagated from grafting. The seeds are in apples – small apples, cull fruit damaged fruit, whatever is left in the orchard and left hanging on the tree and it falls to the ground. We don’t get wild apple trees cropping up all over the orchard. In the commercial apple environment, the chance of weedy types and hybridization is essentially zero. Even if you think of people throwing apple cores out the window on the highway, you don’t’ see apple trees growing along side of roadway. So, you know, the risk is that a portion of the seed might have a very small amount of the transgene. That seed goes in the ground and it rots and decays and that’s the end of it. I think the regulatory people, anyway, have extremely little concern about pollen gene flow and outcrossing and hybridization when compared to that of wind pollinated seed crops like canola, flax, wheat and barley. So we essentially no risk to the conventional industry nor do we see any reason why biotech apples and the organic industry can’t coexist.
They currently coexist in millions of acres of soybeans, corn, canola, etc. planted in North America. In most cases, those field crops co-exist very well with their organic partners and such and those are highly mobile, seed derived crops. The apple industry can be pretty confident that this isn’t going to have any impact at all. If people come up with specific questions on pollen gene flow risk, in our petition we have addressed all those.


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