Critic speaks against GM apple  


Reprinted from the Daily Courier (Kelowna), Page A08, 05-Feb-2013

By Lana Popham

The Okanagan Valley has long been known for producing beautiful, healthy and delicious fruit. Whether you are in B.C., neighbouring Alberta, or even abroad, ask around and it becomes clear the Okanagan's reputation for quality fruit is indisputable. This reputation is one of our industry's greatest advantages.

Unfortunately, that reputation may soon be put at risk by the "Arctic apple." This genetically engineered apple is currently being considered for commercial production by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

However, many growers and industry leaders argue the commercial production of genetically engineered apples in the Okanagan will ruin the reputation of B.C. apples and put the industry in peril.

The concerns of B.C. apple growers are well-founded. A Leger Marketing poll done last June concluded that almost 70 per cent of Canadians want the CFIA to reject the "Arctic apple." As New Democrat agriculture critic, I have supported B.C. fruit growers by actively opposing the "Arctic apple." I drafted a petition that received over 2,000 signatures in just two weeks. In the last legislative session, I challenged the B.C. Liberal minister of agriculture on this issue. Unfortunately, he just passed the buck, calling it a federal issue instead of pledging to stand up for the B.C. industry to address this potential threat.

B.C.'s new agriculture minister, Norm Letnick, should be standing up for Okanagan growers, many of whom are his own constituents, but he has also been silent on this issue.

I think this genetically engineered fruit has achieved such notoriety because of the very nature of apples: they symbolize simplicity, freshness and good health, and are an ubiquitous part of our diet. If a consumer is at all concerned about GMOs, the idea of a genetically engineered apple is especially problematic.

This perspective is intensified when people learn that the "value" of the "Arctic apple" is to hide bruises and discoloration. Consumers don't want to eat fruit that is genetically engineered to appear fresh when it is not, or undamaged when it is damaged. They want to be able to trust their own eyes when deciding what to eat.

Growers are in business; they have every right to be concerned about government decisions which impact the perception of their product and the strength of their brand. Given the intense competition they face from Washington state, they simply can't afford to have consumers wondering whether B.C. apples have been genetically engineered.

The "Arctic apple" also poses a particular threat to the organic industry.

Organic growers are concerned that bees will carry pollen from genetically modified orchards to their trees, contaminating their crop and causing them to lose their organic status. The current regulatory framework doesn't protect growers, organic or otherwise, from cross-pollination.

In the B.C. Interior, an apple is, of course, much more than a symbol or something to buy at the supermarket. The B.C. tree fruit industry has a $900-million-a-year economic impact that benefits communities in the Okanagan, the Similkameen and across British Columbia.

When the legislature is finally recalled on Feb. 12, New Democrats will again press the B.C. Liberals to end their passivity on this issue, and urge them to start listening to fruit growers and actively defend the best interests of B.C. and our tree fruit industry.

Lana Popham is the New Democrat agriculture critic.