By Lucy Sharratt, CBAN. Published December 2016 in the BC Organic Grower
In March 2015, Okanagan Specialty Fruits (OSF) got approval for its GM non-browning Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples in both Canada and the United States. The US government also just announced approval of the GM Fuji, and a GM Gala is coming next. After having said in August 2016 that 1,000-1,200, 40-pound boxes of GM Golden Delicious apples would be sliced and sold in grocery stores in the western U.S.,[i] the company now says it will test market in the US early this year. But where will these apples come from?
Establishing orchards of genetically modified (GM) apples will take time and like other GM products that have been approved by our government, the new GM non-browning “Arctic” apple will be hard to track down. The GM apple is already particularly difficult to trace: OSF itself does not know exactly what to do with it because the market for the apple is unknown. But orchardists in BC, particularly organic growers, need to know where it is cultivated.
The company intends get 300,000 to 500,000 new trees planted each year[ii] but it’s unclear if this plan was for the US, Canada, or both countries. OSF now says that based on their current planting contracts, they will plant over 870,000 trees between 2016 and 2018 that at maturity will produce over 30 million pounds of GM apples every year.[iii] These numbers will be difficult to verify independently.
In an August 2016 letter to CBAN, Okanagan Specialty Fruits said that it will roll out the production and consumer test marketing in the US first: “OSF commercial orchards are currently planted in the United States. OSF consumer product test markets, to be conducted using Arctic® Golden apples from the first commercial harvest, will be conducted in the United States. These test markets will highlight a sliced product featuring the Arctic® brand. Most other parameters, including the Canadian market introduction, have yet to be determined.”
Because BC orchardists protested the field-testing of the GM apple, all field trials took place in the US instead of Canada, leaving maturing orchards in Washington and New York State. OSF President Neal Carter says there are already 70 acres in one ranch in Washington.[iv]
The location of any GM apple trees is important information for organic growers. OSF told COABC that no GM apple orchards are planted in Canada yet and it may be “several years” before BC plantings occur.[v] However, in January 2016, the Ottawa Citizen reported that, “So far, only a handful of Arctic Apple trees are being grown in Canada, in a greenhouse in Summerland, B.C., where Carter owns his orchard.”[vi] Carter may not have planted GM fruit trees yet but could have a nursery where he is growing his own rootstock. The company also told COABC “when plantings in BC do take place, all trees and fruit will be under the direct oversight of OSF on either our own land or that of growers specifically contracted to produce fruit for us.”.[vii]
Despite the name, Okanagan Specialty Fruits is no longer a small BC company. In 2015, it was bought by biotechnology/synthetic biology company Intrexon, which also owns the GM salmon and a GM mosquito.
Ultimately, growers will need to work together to track the GM apple trees. COABC is asking growers to talk to their nurseries and report any information so that growers in BC can be aware if and when the GM trees hit the market. Some growers are already getting verbal pledges from their nurseries that they will never sell the GM trees.
OSF says “The Perfect Fruit Got Even Better” but consumers will decide if this is the case. Most major grocery chains in Canada have already responded to consumer concerns by saying that they have no plans to carry the GM apple in their stores. In the meantime, growers can also decide how far the GM apple tree gets.
For updates and more information: www.cban.ca/apples
[i] Dan Wheat, “Company Forges Ahead with GM Apples” Capital Press, August 11, 2016. http://www.capitalpress.com/Orchards/20160811/company-forges-ahead-with-gm-apples
[ii] Laura Robin, “From Tree to Table: The Arctic Apple is Ready to Blossom” Ottawa Citizen, January 22, 2016. http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/from-tree-to-table-the-arctic-apple-is-ready-to-blossom
[iii] Intrexon’s (XON) CEO Randal Kirk on Q3 2016 Results – Earnings Call Transcript, November 9, 2016. http://seekingalpha.com/article/4021879-intrexons-xon-ceo-randal-kirk-q3-2016-results-earnings-call-transcript?part=single
[iv] Fresh Fruit Portal, “US: GM Arctic Apple Ready for First Test Marketing in Early 2017” October 3, 2016. http://www.freshfruitportal.com/news/2016/10/03/u-s-gm-arctic-apples-ready-for-first-test-marketing-in-early-2017/
[v] Email correspondence between Eva-Lena Lang, Certified Organic Association of BC and Jessica Brady, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, June 10, 2016; Letter from Neal Carter, Okanagan Specialty Fruits to Walter Makepeace, Certified Organic Association of BC , November 1, 2016.
[vi] Letter from Neal Carter, Okanagan Specialty Fruits to Lucy Sharratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, August 22, 2016.
[vii] Letter from Neal Carter, Okanagan Specialty Fruits to Walter Makepeace, Certified Organic Association of BC , November 1, 2016.