Saturday, June 23, 2012

Opposition to the Newest Apple Product

Sorry tech geeks.  This is about fruits, not phones. 

The Arctic Apple is a new product currently undergoing regulatory approval in the United States and Canada. It was developed by a small biotech company in Summerland BC, Canada, so save the Monsanto comments.


It is a non-browning apple, created using transgenic technology (probably cisgenic).  Browning is a reaction to damage. This can be cutting or bruising.  An enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (or PPO) mediates this process.  Without PPO, no browning occurs. 

A silenced gene inhibits browning.  A great development for growers and consumers.

Apples have four PPO genes.  In the Arctic Apple these genes are silenced, likely using RNAi technology.  In a very basic explanation, the native apple PPO gene is expressed in a way that causes the other PPO genes to be shut down. 

The potential benefits?  The details are here.  Huge amounts of apple fruits are culled from the tree, damaged from post-harvest handling, or are discarded by grocers or consumers because of browning.  The Arctic Apple promises to limit these problems. Not the solution to world hunger, but certainly a way to deliver a better product to more people with less waste. This is good for growers, the consumer, and the supply chain in between.  This is sustainable agriculture. 


But of course, the technology is being met with opposition. And it is opposition based on ignorance and not science.
JIND Fruit's Jessie Sandhu was reported to show concern for the product.  Of course, he gives the usual mantra of "we just don't know what will happen".  But he also offers other irrational fears as well.  He mentions cross pollination and perception in markets like the EU. 


Sandhu displays ignorance of the industry when he raises the question of cross pollination.  Apple trees are not propagated from seeds.  They are vegetatively grafted on to rootsocks.  There is no chance of cross pollination leading to spread of the transgene. 


According to an industry report, Canada is the 8th largest apple importer in the world.   Their major export destinations are the USA (83%), with 7% going to the UK.  The EU is not a major export target, and it also is unclear if they are opposed to cisgenics.  Researchers in the Netherlands seem to think there is good public acceptance.


Of course, opponents forget that this could be a great opportunity for growers as fruit with superior postharvest performance will have reasonable demand.

Don't tell that to Allan Patton.  Allan sits on the board Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen. He made a plea to his colleagues to reject the Arctic Apple from the region, and even made overtures that the Canadian Federal Government should reject the application.

The article continues: 


"The director for rural Oliver said the risk of cross-pollination of traditional varieties with genetically-modified strains puts the entire Okanagan fruit industry in jeopardy."


Again, apples are not grown from seeds, so here politicians are making decisions on a technology when they don't even understand it. 

Neal Carter, President of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, was in attendance and commented, "“Right now, the decisions are being carried by fear, not science or real data.”

The product will continue to spur discussion.  Look for it to receive regulatory approval in 2014.