Franken-apples at the eye of the GMO storm
Monday, 01 October 2012 02:00 Kelowna Daily Courier
Sixty protesters rallied against what they call Franken-apples in a bid to stop genetically engineered fruit from entering grocery stores.
People sang and waved signs in Kerry Park expressing outrage that Health Canada is considering a bid by a Summerland biotech company to plant trees that grow non-browning apples.
Two apple varieties now in development – the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden – lack the enzyme that causes browning, which occurs when an apple’s cells are disrupted by bruising or cutting.
Neal Carter, who runs Okanagan Specialty Fruits, believes introducing the apple could reverse declining demand across Canada.
“The apple industry is in fairly dismal shape,” he said in July. “We’re losing ground on pretty well all fruits and vegetables. We’ve got to do something new and different here to keep the consumption (of fresh apples) at least at the level it is today.”
Critics say the nutritional content of genetically modified food will be compromised if it sits out for long periods, and consumers would be duped into thinking they’re eating a fresh product.
Heidi Osterman, a certified nutritionist who organized Sunday’s rally, said scientists have used a gene-silencing process that threatens the Okanagan’s reputation as a pristine agriculture region.
“Do we really want our stellar, beautiful Okanagan to be known as the birthplace of the genetically engineered monster apple? They’re going to call it a Franken-apple,” she said in an interview.
A cross-Canada survey, conducted by Leger Marketing in Quebec earlier this year, found 69 per cent of the 1,501 respondents were against allowing genetically engineered (GE) apples in Canadian stores.
Fourteen per cent would buy GE food without hesitating, 45 per cent said it would depend on the type of food, and 35 per cent said nothing could convince them to buy it.
“It confirms there’s a market risk out there,” Glen Lucas, general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, said in July. “Growers are concerned there could be a market backlash.”
A major factor is the risk of genes from GE apple orchards contaminating standard apples growing nearby, said Osterman.
“They won’t be able to sell their fruit as organic because it will have GMO genes in it . . . Neal Carter said gene drift is preventable by hedges.
“I’ve spoken to beekeepers who say that’s nonsense.”
Osterman and her colleague, Dietrich Whittle of Penticton, are also lobbying the federal government to make food labeling mandatory so consumers know when the food they buy is modified. They’re petitioning Health Canada to reject Carter’s application.
“Who on earth would want an apple that’s old, decaying and still looks fresh? It’ll be used in airports, and old folks homes and school lunches.
“It’s just nonsense. We have perfectly good healthy apples that are non-browning already. You can always add some lemon juice if you’re really concerned.”
The campaign collected about 350 signatures this weekend.