Off The Record: An icy response to the Arctic Apple

When hell freezes over… when pigs have wings… when peeled apples stop browning...

When hell freezes over… when pigs have wings… when peeled apples stop browning…

One of these idioms of improbability is not like the other; and if you guessed number three, then you’ve probably heard about a new B.C. invention called the Arctic Apple. Genetically modified to not turn brown, the Arctic Apple is being heralded as a revolutionizing catalyst for the tree fruit industry by its developer, Neal Carter of Summerland.

Basically, when you cut open an ordinary apple, enzymes in the apple oxidize, causing it to turn brown. Mr. Carter has employed a genetic engineering technique dubbed gene silencing whereby the number of these particular enzymes are reduced. After fifteen or so years in the research and development phase, his biotechnology company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, is now seeking Canadian and U.S. government approval. If granted, Arctic Apples could appear in North American grocery stores as early as 2014.

Predictably, the news of this development has sparked fierce protest across North America from industry players as well as supporters of the anti-GMO (genetically modified organisms) movement.

Closer to home, GE Free BC, a Vancouver-based non-profit coalition, has launched a campaign across both B.C. and Alberta to educate local consumers about the health risks of GMO foods and crops.

The GMO industry is unregulated, GMO labelling is not required, and GMO foods already saturate the North American diet; yet, the longterm effects of GMOs on human health remain unknown.

Alarmingly, however, studies done on animals link GMOs to infertility, cancer, damage to digestive organs and more.

With more and more countries banning GMO crops and seeds, including Austria, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria and Luxembourg, Mr. Carter’s development of the Arctic Apple seems oddly out of step with growing global consumer awareness.

But he purports his contribution to science is for the betterment of humankind — not only will consumers be delighted with their forever-white apples, but the industry stands to reap the financial rewards in terms of production-related savings (based on the logic that non-browning Arctic Apples will ensure more product gets to market).

Millions have turned against GMOs over the last two decades due, in part, to the evil business ethics of Monsanto, the world’s biotech giant that devised GMOs as a way to patent seeds (called “seeds of suicide” in India), which they then use to sue, control and blackmail farmers around the world.

But this technology has also been used for good.

Take the Golden Rice project ( Golden Rice is a provitamin A bio-fortified crop engineered to address dietary deficiencies in some of the poorest areas to the world.

Potential health concerns aside, given the benefits of the Arctic Apple are entirely cosmetic with some predicted financial gain as a result of the guaranteed aesthetic value, Mr. Carter’s product simply comes across as a frivolous use of GMO technology.

Unless the Arctic Apple also comes with a coating of protective armour, consumers picking through a bin of them are probably going to disregard any with pierced or bruised skin, brown or not.

And when you consider that intact apples can already be stored for six months or more, one has to wonder what the point is.

Nicole Trigg is the associate editor of The Valley Echo and can be reached at