By Steve MacNaull

The B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association still doesn’t like genetically-engineered apples. On Friday, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada approved the genetically-modified non-browning Arctic Apple, developed by Summerland-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits, for commercial sale in Canada, giving the association yet another opportunity to voice its opposition.

The association, which represents 520 commercial apple growers in the Valley, has been against genetically-altered fruit since the concept was first discussed, through Okanagan Specialty Fruits’ development process, and when U.S. authorities approved Arctic Apples last month for commercial sale.

With approvals both in Canada and the U.S., Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden apples should start showing up in stores next year as both fresh produce and sliced into convenient snack packages.

Arctic apples are genetically engineered to modify the gene which controls the browning of the fruit’s flesh when it’s cut or sliced.

It also helps reduce bruising.

Generally, the association was willing to let the apple-buying public decide whether it wanted to buy genetically-altered apples.

However, Arctic Apples won’t be identified as genetically engineered when they hit stores.

“The market should have a reference point to make a choice and to protect conventional producers from possible harm,” said B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association president Fred Steele, a Kelowna-area orchardist.

“There has also been concern expressed that the approval of the Arctic Apple will impact the organic sector.

“The government needs to ensure consumers can make good decisions and if there is to be a choice on purchasing genetically-modified foods, then the choice should be apparent.”

The association fears a market backlash that could hurt all apple producers, whether their fruit is genetically-modified or not.

In approving Arctic Apples, the Canada Food Inspection Agency said: “(They) are as safe and nutritious as traditional apple varieties.”

Health Canada added: “(The Arctic Apple) is safe for consumption and still has all its nutritional value and therefore does not differ from other apples available on the market.”

Others disagree and some research links genetically-engineered foods to infection and disease in animals and humans.

As soon as Arctic Apples received approvals in the U.S., Washington, D.C.-area publicly-traded synthetic biology company Intrexon bought Okanagan Specialty Fruits for $41 million.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits founder and orchardist Neal Carter will remain part of the company and share with 45 other investors in the $31 million worth of Intrexon stock and $10 million cash.

Genetically-modified tomatoes, corn, soybeans, sugar beets and canola crops are already being grown in Canada.

Originally Published: The Daily Courier