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BCFGA Convention

GMO a no-go

Geneticmodification issue sparks spirited debate as orchardists worry that use of the technologymight cause further harmtomarket returns. By Judie Steeves


he most contentious discussion at this year’s B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association convention was around the advisability of embarking on acceptance of genetically-modified organisms (GMO) in B.C. tree fruits. There were some objections, but a majority of delegates to this year’s grower convention resolved not to support the genetic modification of apples until there’s proof it won’t hurt returns for tree fruits.

The concern is public perception of the use of GMOs, which growers said is negative and could paint the whole industry with the same brush in the eyes of consumers. Similkameen grower Wilf Mennell expressed concerns about the possibility of GMOs being introduced into the plant material used by organic growers. “As an organic grower that could jeopardize my certification,” he said. Summerland grower Joe Sardinha noted it’s an intense subject, but said it’s all about market perception and risk. “We’re a shrinking industry as it is, so we can’t afford to take the risk of appearing to have an open door policy on GMOs,” he said. “It’s a risk to my livelihood.” Summerland grower Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Foods, defended his efforts to get approval for apples that have had the gene “switched off” that controls the enzyme that turns the fruit’s white flesh brown when it is cut and the flesh exposed to the air. The company applied in December for approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the new line of Arctic apples containing the modified gene. The line could include Granny, Golden Delicious, Fuji and Gala apples. Non-browning apples would be an advantage in lunch boxes, in salads and for the processing market.

Carter told delegates the resolution they were debating

is “fraught with inaccuracies and asks the government not to do what it is already doing.”

GMOs have already been approved by the Canadian government and are being used now in pesticides as well as to ferment wine and brew beer.

There are millions of acres of GM-cross plantings in Canada, much of that canola, which co-exists with non- GM products.

“This science is in its infancy and you’re painting yourself into a corner at the beginning of the game,” Carter told growers, adding, “An extensive environmental assessment would have to be done first.” It would be at least three years before any trees would be planted, he said.

Lake Country grower Penny Gambell said the feedback she’s heard from the public has been very negative, and she doesn’t feel it would just impact organic growers, but regular growers as well.

“Until we understand this better, this is not a road we want to go down,” she said.

However, David Lane, speaking as a BCFGA member, although he is also the research scientist for the Pacific Agri-food Research Centre in Summerland who developed the non-browning apple, pointed out that government is spending huge amounts of money on genetics to improve species.

With this resolution, he said, growers would “throw out a lot of useful technology.”

Instead, he suggested growers amend the resolution so that GMOs are not defined. Otherwise, “there’s a risk government will think we’re not interested in new technology.”

The resolution was approved with just three delegates voting against it.

It stated the BCFGA does not support the open field release of GMO tree fruits in Canada until the government can provide assurance and indemnity to industry that there will be no impact of the introduction of GMOs on the market returns for tree fruits, and further that the government not approves them until a protocol is in place to assure there is no impact on organic farm certification.

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Spring 2011 11

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