New U.S. Apple CEO has experience with GMO issues

/U.S. Apple Association Jim Bair, new president and CEO of U.S. Apple Association.

The incoming president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association was chosen for his leadership ability but he also has some experience in handling issues involving genetically modified crops.

James Bair noted that biotechnology has been a modern tool in row crops for more than 15 years. As vice president of the North American Millers’ Association — representing millers of wheat, corn, oats and rye in the U.S. and Canada — he’s been involved in some controversial issues, including the detection of unapproved genetically modified wheat in an Oregon field earlier this year, he said.

“I have some learnings in that area that may be useful,” he said. “I worked closely with growers and bakers to share information and provide a calming and reassuring message to the marketplace and consumers.”

The U.S. Apple Association is opposed to a British Columbia apple grower’s effort to gain USDA approval of a genetically modified, non-browning apple for U.S. production and sales next year. The association supports technology that improves the benefits of apples in substantive ways like quality, flavor, pest resistance and enhanced nutrition but believes non-browning is insufficient to risk possible market disruption from people opposed to GM products, Wendy Brannen, U.S. Apple Association spokeswoman has said.

Bair said he’s talked with association board members about GM apples, food safety, immigration and other issues.

“Apples are highly recognized as a nutritious and wholesome food. The industry has a great story to tell and we will make sure people hear it,” he said.

Bair has good leadership and communication skills and is a person who can lead the association for years to come, said Chris Britton, U.S. Apple board chairman.

Bair was “a standout as a capable and dynamic leader” among five finalists interviewed out of 50 or 60 applicants, said Mike Wade, general manager of Columbia Fruit Packers in Wenatchee, Wash., who chaired a selection committee.

“We see him as a natural fit and are excited to see him as part of the team,” Wade said.

Diane Kurrle, interim president, will return to her role as vice president of public affairs and governmental relations, he said. Nancy Foster, the previous president, left in August.

Bair, 53, was raised on a farm near Odebolt, Iowa, and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in agronomy in 1982. He was marketing director of the Kansas Wheat Commission and was a White House appointee of the USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service before spending 25 years with the Millers’ Association, first as director of government relations but mostly as vice president.

He was the association’s spokesman with media, government and industry groups and represented member companies on trade, quality, environmental and biotechnology issues.

U.S. Apple Association in Vienna, Va., represents all segments of the apple industry and 40 state and regional apple associations representing 7,500 growers and more than 400 companies.

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