POLITICS

B.C.'s organic growers browned off by bid to wipe browning gene from apples

05/17/2012 12:04 EDT | Updated 07/17/2012 05:12 EDT
KELOWNA, B.C. - Orchardists in B.C.'s Okanagan region worry that the introduction of genetically modified trees could take a bite out of fruit sales.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is considering an application to allow a genetically modified variety of apple called the Arctic Apple.

Summerland orchardist Joe Sardinha is anxious about how consumers would perceive the product.

"I'm not concerned about the science behind it; I'm not a scientist. From my standpoint as a producer, I'm concerned that, with genetic modification, consumers could easily feel that their pristine apple suddenly has a component that they're not confident in.

"Whether it's apples, pears or peaches, genetic modification threatens the industry and threatens organic growers as well."

The modified apple tree strain has a trait that keeps the apples from browning. Sardinha believes this benefit is not significant enough for consumers in the Okanagan.

"There are plenty of ways to keep those apples fresh with some very simple natural-occurring things like citric acid. In this particular case, the trait is only the non-browning feature. We already have a naturally selected apple that has that," he said.

In response to NDP questions, B.C. Agriculture Minister Don McRae told the legislature on Tuesday that, to date, no applications for perennial crops with genetically modified genes have been approved in Canada.

"It's expected this process will go through due process, but it will take some time," he said.

Supporters say modified foods can solve many of the world's hunger problems through an increase in crop yield and an increase of the nutrients found in foods. However, the industry faces several challenges, including safety, testing and regulation of such foods.

Organic farmers are concerned they could lose their organic status if genes inadvertently transfer between crops. They point to an area organic farmer possibly harvesting genetically modified corn, through cross-fertilization from a nearby field where Monsanto corn was planted.

Last year, the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association passed a resolution against the introduction of genetically modified fruit. Sardinha was president of the group at that time.

"The B.C. tree fruit industry produces healthy products that are world famous for flavour and purity. Growers are concerned that this marketing advantage will be undermined if the introduction of genetically modified fruit is allowed to go forward," said Lana Popham, New Democrat critic for agriculture, in a statement. (Kelowna Daily Courier)