11/14/2013 11:08 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 18:58 EST

Non-browning Arctic Apple concerns GMO opponents

A new apple that has been genetically modified so it won't turn brown is sparking a battle between some environmentalists and the Okanagan company that developed it.

The Arctic Apple doesn’t oxidize — or turn brown — because its developers have figured out how to silence the genes that produce the browning enzyme.

It was developed by Summerland grower Neal Carter, who’s pushing for approval of the apple variety. He says the apple will do great things for the industry by preserving more fruit throughout the production system.

But Tony Beck with the Society for GE Free B.C. says he's concerned about the genetically modified apple. That's why his group has organized a series of talks in 32 B.C. communities starting Thursday night in Courtenay.

"A number of scientists have raised serious health and environmental concerns about genetically engineered crops like the apple," says Beck.

"There will almost certainly be contamination from the genetically engineered apple. We'll see new generations of genetically engineered apples coming up all over the place and these will cross-pollinate with other apple varieties."

'Pseudoscience' blamed for concerns

But Carter says fears of cross-pollination are not backed up by science, and points out the apples have been grown in field trials for more than a decade.   

"This is very common in the anti-GM movement. You know people look for things that really don't exist, but they like to use the pseudoscience and great paranoia, and that is something that we battle every day."

Last week, the Arctic Apple took a step forward in the regulatory approval process south of the border when the U.S. Department of Agriculture posted two assessments of it. It is also being reviewed by Health Canada, and Carter is hopeful the Arctic Apples will be approved in both countries by next spring.                  

"These are the most tested and scrutinized apples in the world, and probably the safest apples in the world," he says.