GM apple approval may come soon, backer says

Dan Wheat
Production and sales of genetically-modified, non-browning apples may be approved soon in the U.S. and a few months later in Canada. The developer is planning to ramp up propagation.

The Canadian developer of genetically modified apples says he expects approval for production and sales in the U.S. any day now and in Canada in three to four months.

“We’re very excited. It definitely will be a day we will celebrate. It will be four years since we submitted documents for approval,” Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., Summerland, B.C., told Capital Press.

The biotech regulatory service of USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and the Food and Drug Administration make the decision in the U.S., but Carter said he won’t find out until he reads it in the Federal Register along with everyone else.

“There is no heads-up,” he said.

In Canada, three agencies are involved in the approval process. Carter expects approval in both countries because decisions are based on scientific environmental and plant risk assessments, not political opinion.

The USDA already has concluded the apples are safe and pose no risks, he said. Based on that, Carter expects approval even though public comments to USDA have run in opposition.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits’ Arctic brand Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples have been engineered to “silence” a gene that causes browning when sliced. Carter believes biotechnology is needed to help agriculture meet an ever-expanding global food demand. He believes non-browning and other GM apples could increase apple consumption and returns to growers. Non-browning apples could lessen costs and boost sales of the sliced-apple snack business, he has said.

But a leader in that business, Crunch Pak of Cashmere, Wash., has said it has no intention of using Arctic apples.

The U.S. and Washington apple industries have opposed Carter’s petition for USDA approval, not out of opposition to genetic engineering but out of fear it could hurt sales of all apples because of negative public reaction to GM foods.

Approval will be a vote of confidence in the technology and the product, Carter said.

Nothing dramatic will happen but nurseries in Canada and the U.S. will begin propagation this August and September for spring 2016 delivery of 50,000 to 100,000 trees to half-a-dozen growers in about as many states including Washington and Michigan, he said. About 25,000 trees will be ready for planting in spring of 2015, he said.

John Rice, co-owner of Rice Fruit Co., Gardners, Pa., the largest apple packer on the East Coast, has previously said he wants to plant them.

A small amount of fruit may be sold this fall from field trials, Carter said, but it will be three to four years before there’s any significant amounts of fruit.



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