The Genetically Modified “Non-Browning” Arctic Apple

Re-posting this article from 2015 because Okanagan Speciality Fruits is currently trying to market their Gmo apple through social media and making it seem like there are no problems with it.They have gotten the approval regardless of the opposition from farmers and consumers. 

The Genetically Modified “Non-Browning” Apple

CBAN Factsheet, Updated February 2015

A small BC company called Okanagan Specialty Fruits (OSF) has asked Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to approve a genetically engineered (also called genetically modified or GM) “non-browning” apple. The company received approval in the US in February 2015.

What is the GM apple?

The “non-browning” apple is genetically engineered to keep from going brown after being cut. The apple is primarily designed for fast food companies and food processing companies, so they can put sliced apples in packaged foods.

When apple flesh is cut and exposed to oxygen, it begins to brown. But the GM apple or “Arctic Apple,”
as the company calls it, “will decay naturally just like any other apple, but it will not turn brown from
bruising, cutting or biting – not in minutes, hours or days.”(1) In fact, the company says the GM apple
will not brown for 15 to 18 days. (2)

But browning in apples is not a problem, it’s helpful information. The “non-browning” GM apples are
designed to look fresh when they’re not.

The company wants approval for GM Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples but it also wants to engineer Gala and Fuji apples in the future.

When could the GM apple be approved?

The GM apple could be approved in the U.S. in 2012 or 2013. The company says the apple could be approved in Canada in 2014 but there’s no timeframe for a decision because the entire process will happen in secret.

The company asked for approval in the U.S. in March 2010 and sent its request to the Canadian government in December 2011.

No GM apples have been approved anywhere in the world.

Summary: What’s the Problem?

  • Consumers don’t want the GM apple.
  • The GM “non-browning” apple will be misleading to consumers because it will look fresh when it’s not.
  • BC apple growers have already rejected the GM apple.
  • Contamination from GM apples is a risk to organic apples and to the market for all Canadian apple producers.
  • Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are using public funds to review a GM apple that no one wants.
  • The federal government has not consulted with farmers and consumers and federal regulators do not consider economic or social concerns before they approve any new GM crop.

How did the company engineered the apple?

The company silenced a gene in the apple (that controls browning) by inserting modified apple DNA along with genetic sequences from three different species:

  1. A regulatory gene switch from a plant virus (Cauliflower Mosaic virus promoter: CaMV 35S);
  2. A terminator sequence from a bacterium (Agrobacterium tumefaciens taken from its Nopaline synthase gene: nos); and
  3. An antibiotic resistance marker gene from a bacterium (Streptomyces kanamyceticus) here the nptII gene (which confers resistance to the antibiotic kanamycin).

The technology was developed in Australia and licensed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits.

What is the contamination risk?

We cannot control where apple seeds and pollen from GM apple trees will go.

Bees and Pollen

Apples are pollinated by bees. The company, OSF, says that bees will stay very close to their hive when there is enough food (such as when an orchard is in bloom) and that the risk of contamination from bees is small.

However, there are approximately 450 native bee species in BC and the Yukon and there are many small orchards that support a great variety of these wild/native bee species.

OSF also says that “dense orchard plantings and buffer rows make it very difficult for bees to maneuver far, so the risk of bees carrying pollen far enough to be an issue is almost nonexistent.” (3) But many orchardists disagree, especially when they consider the behaviour and diversity of native bees.

To limit the risk of contamination the company also says it will implement “grower stewardship standards” to define buffer distances between GM apple orchards and other apple orchards. However, the cost and set-up of buffer zones has so far been the burden of organic farmers and other growers who want to protect their non-GM crops from GM contamination, rather than farmers planting GM crops. Buffer zones will add to the cost of production and would likely be a disincentive to grow the GM apples. There is no guarantee that the company will set up such standards or that they will be able to enforce them.

Apple Seeds

Apple seeds do not breed true (they may retain some traits of their parents but the resulting trees are not an exact copy of their parent) so grafting is used to propagate apple trees rather than seeds. However if apple seeds pollinated with GM pollen germinate they will result in GM apple trees (trees expressing the GM trait or carrying the new gene sequence).

There are many ways that GM apple seeds can spread in our environment such as by humans discarding apple cores, cores in compost piles, seeds scattered by animals, and deliberate plantings.

What happens to our apples if GM pollen spreads?

If an apple tree is pollinated with GM pollen, the genes would be present in the resulting apple seeds, not the apple flesh. If pollen from GM apple trees moves into a non-GM apple orchard, some seeds from the non-GM trees that were pollinated will carry the new gene sequence and could express the new GM trait.

Consumers Oppose the GM apple

  • 69% of Canadians don’t want to eat the GM apple, according to a 2012 poll commissioned by the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association and the Quebec Federation of Apple Producers.(4)
  • The U.S. Apple Association says, “consumers like their apples and are not calling for these new “nonbrowning” cultivars.” (5)

Apple growers oppose the GM apple

Contamination from GM apples threatens the future of our apples, and the farmers who grow them.

  • The BC Fruit Growers Association and the Quebec Federation of Apple Producers oppose approval of the GM apple.
  • The Washington-based Northwest Horticultural Council has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop the GM apple.

In 2001, BC apple growers stopped the GM apple from being field tested in Canada. The federal government agricultural station in Summerland in the Okanagan valley, an important fruit growing area, was preparing to start field trials but growers who were concerned about contamination stopped these field trials from happening. As a consequence, the company has tested all their apple trees in the U.S. (Washington State and New York State)

The GM apple is not necessary

The GM technology is unnecessary as there are already techniques that slow browning in apples – in our kitchens we use lemon juice, and the food service industry uses ascorbic acid (vitamin C). There are also varieties of naturally slow-browning apples, such as Ambrosia which is grown in BC.

Notes
1 Okanagan Specialty Fruits, http://www.okspecialtyfruits.com/arctic-apples/about-our-nonbrowning-apples
2 “Okanagan GM apple doesn’t go brown when sliced,” by Sam Redding, Kelowna Daily Courier, May 18, 2012.
3 Okanagan Specialty Fruits, http://www.arcticapples.com/blog/joel/cross-pollination-concernsdon%E2%80%99t-bee-lieve-it#.UCli6mNSSQY
4 B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association and La Fédération des Producteurs de Pomme du Québec, Canadian Public Opinion Poll, Leger Marketing, July 3, 2012.
For more information: www.cban.ca/apple

read more

Check out the series of articles on GM food and crops in farm paper

 
Today’s news: Access to Information documents show that the company AquaBounty exerted pressure on Canadian regulators to expedite testing of its genetically modified (GM) fish eggs for export. The company is exporting its GM Atlantic salmon eggs to Panama for research as well as to Argentina and Brazil. In order to get export certificates, the live eggs need to be tested for diseases so they don’t spread disease and threaten the environment or economy of the importing country.
  • Canada (Prince Edward Island) is now the global source of GM Atlantic salmon eggs.
  • Canada is the only country that has, so far, approved the production of the GM salmon.
  • The US and Canada have both approved the GM fish as safe for human consumption.
  • The GM fish is not yet being grown anywhere in the world.
More information at www.cban.ca/fish
Here is the CBC report:
 

CBC Exclusive: CFIA fast-tracked tests on genetically modified salmon eggs for exports, documents suggest

Documents show health inspectors scrambled to meet deadline for time-sensitive salmon egg test
By Margo McDiarmid, CBC News, January 11, 2017
http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/genetically-modified-salmon-cfia-aquabounty-1.3929571

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency fast-tracked safety tests on eggs from genetically modified salmon in order to hit an export deadline last year, according to internal government documents.

Documents obtained under Access to Information by researcher Ken Rubin and shared with CBC News show that veterinarians working in Prince Edward Island and other inspection offices of the CFIA were under “pressure” to get the inspections for diseases and viruses done quickly.

At one point, documents suggest the CFIA got permission to jump the queue over other pending tests to speed up the process and sent batches of eggs to three federal labs across the country for testing.

The CFIA’s mandate is to ensure safety in food animals and plants in Canada and in products exported to other countries.

More than 600 pages of emails show the discussions between the CFIA and AquaBounty, a Massachusetts-based company that is producing the world’s first genetically modified salmon for human consumption. It is also exporting fish eggs to other countries for research and for fish production.

AquaBounty salmon are genetically altered to grow faster. They are sterile and grown in landlocked tanks in Prince Edward Island and Panama.

The salmon were approved for human consumption in May 2016 in Canada, but leading up to that approval, AquaBounty was negotiating its first major permits for genetically modified salmon eggs for export to China, Argentina and Brazil for research. It was also seeking new permits to send eggs to Panama for commercial use.

‘Pressure’ on inspectors

Canadian food safety inspectors set up a schedule to conduct four “disease freedom tests” on hundreds of fish eggs before they were granted export permits.

But documents suggest the plan resulted in a scramble for CFIA inspectors to test the salmon eggs. Meanwhile, it appears they were facing “pressure” from AquaBounty, which needed to meet its export deadlines. The documents show top officials at the food safety regulator were concerned over the short time frame and pressure from the company.

“I am wondering if you are aware of the status of the Export Certificate of salmonoids …. The stakeholder rep. is bugging our inspectors in P.E.I.,” said Samson OgunTona, CFIA’S National Operations Veterinary Specialist, in an email from January 2016.

A screenshot from the AquaBounty website showing genetically-modified salmon eggs. (AquaBounty web video)
“The exporter is putting tremendous pressure on Ops in Atlantic region to conduct testing for export,” warned Michael Langlet, a policy and programme specialist, a month later.

Documents show AquaBounty was concerned that after its March 23 deadline, fish eggs would start hatching and would be useless to its customers. It sent regular emails to CFIA inspectors about the tests.

“When will the results be available on the last set of samples?” an employee at the company asked the CFIA in March, as the deadline loomed.

“Is there anything I can do to assist this process?” asked the company representative; at one point the person offered to help write the export labels for its products.

CFIA: prompting ‘not unusual’

The chief regional inspector in Atlantic Canada, David Cameron, says discussions with the exporter are just part of the process.

“It’s not unusual for us to receive some prompting from industry … regardless of commodity, to facilitate those exports,” said Cameron in an interview with CBC.

AquaBounty didn’t respond to CBC’s questions by deadline. But in an email exchange with CBC News on Jan. 3, the company denied it was improperly pressuring the federal regulator.

“We had eggs with a limited shelf life (i.e., viability) that needed to be shipped by a certain date and we had provided CFIA with all the information required to obtain the permits,” said Dave Conley, AquaBounty’s director of communications wrote in an email.

“We were only asking CFIA to do their job and complete the process in a timely manner.”

AquaBounty has been approved to sell genetically-modified salmon as food in Canada and the United States. The company says once its salmon is harvested it cannot be distinguished from regular salmon. (AquaBounty)
At one point, it appears the CFIA gave permission to one of its Newfoundland veterinarians to put the salmon eggs at the top of the testing priority list.

“Karla had asked and received permission for those samples to jump ‘queue,'” wrote the CFIA’s national manager, Joanne Constantine.

The CFIA’s David Cameron says AquaBounty didn’t get any special treatment.

“It’s not necessarily jumping the queue. This is a very perishable product and in the interest of preserving its integrity and its viability … exports take priority over imports and depending on the commodity and perishability,” he said.

But the documents also show the CFIA was keenly aware of the commercial impact of the exports.

The federal veterinarian responsible for testing at AquaBounty Farms, Jean MacLean, wrote in an email, “There is pressure to get testing done for export purposes for this operator on a very short timeline.”

“I asked my Inspection Manager …about it as this has a very large commercial impact,” she said in the email contained in the documents.

It appears it was also an issue for one of the CFIA’s top veterinarians.

“CFIA is aware of the urgency which Aquabounty has concerning these negotiations. CFIA addresses these negotiations as a trade issue priority for Aquabounty, and is addressing these negotiations as a priority,” wrote Dr Douglas Aitken, national operations veterinary specialist.

‘Great deal of back and forth’: critic

The co-ordinator for the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network says the CFIA appears to have lost sight of its main job — to impartially test for product safety.

“The CFIA was spending a great deal of time and resources facilitating this product,” said Lucy Sharratt in an interview.

“It’s not the government’s responsibility to make sure that AquaBounty can move its products around. The responsibility in this case is to make sure the products are safe when they’re moved around.”

Sharratt’s group acts as a watchdog on genetically modified products and has been critical of the approval of AquaBounty’s salmon.

She thinks the emails show the CFIA was heavily influenced by the company’s schedule to get its products quickly tested for export.

“There was a great deal of back and forth with many people over the testing and the timeline of the testing. And the types of pressure put on labs to jump the cue. That there was some sort of an allowance made for AquaBounty because of this time frame,” said Sharratt.

She also wonders about how much the CFIA was influenced by the company and the economic value of the controversial product.

“It is a concern that departments are not prepared to deal with the type of corporate pressure that can be brought to bear on them from companies, she said.

“How to make sure that staff can do their jobs in the context of the right mandate without becoming advocates for companies.”

But David Cameron says the CFIA doesn’t cut corners when it comes to testing, no matter what the product.

“We would not endorse an export certificate unless we were sure that all of the health any safety factors were addressed by one method or another.”

The exterior of the AquaBounty genetically-modified salmon facility. (AquaBounty)
According to the documents, between January and March 31 of last year, the CFIA approved all the new export permits for genetically modified salmon eggs for which AquaBounty applied.

It has approved three more export permits for AquaBounty since then.

********

 

Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN)
Collaborative Campaigning for Food Sovereignty and Environmental Justice