Good Fruit Grower

September 2012

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ARCTIC apples T he core idea is simple and elegant. Take iconic apple varieties, ones people know well and like, and fix the problems they have. Get rid of the apple scab in McIntosh, the bruises on Golden Delicious and Granny Smith, the fireblight in Gala, the bitter pit in Honeycrisp, the storage Nonbrowning apples seek to clear next hurdle on way to market. scald in Red Delicious. Wouldn't that be easier than constantly develop- ing new cultivars, selecting and evaluating them for years, going through the long process of introducing them to market, and slowly finding out that they, too, have faults? That was the logic followed by Neal Carter and a small group of Canadian apple growers in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley when they formed Okanagan Specialty Fruits in 1996. Since then, the company has grown to 45 share- holders, half of which are tree fruit growers and industry participants. The only clinker in the scenario is the process for improving an apple without using conventional breeding techniques is called genetic engineering. It is not clear how widely opposed the general public is by Richard Lehnert to biotech. Europeans seem opposed. But American con- sumers now, virtually without comment, eat the products from some 250 million acres of genetically modified corn, soybeans, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa, and the tropical fruit papaya. The most vocal opponents are organic growers and the Organic Con- sumers Association, who are against any manifestation of genetic engi- neering and steadfastly maintain that organic production, which forbids any use of the process, is the way of the future. Some in the apple industry are fearful that genetically engineered apples—even a few here and there—might provide enough fuel to undermine the wholesome image apples enjoy and smash the entire market for apples. No resolution seems in sight. But every so often, the issue is resur- rected as Okanagan Specialty Fruits's new apples, Arctic Golden and Arc- tic Granny, reach a new hurdle on the road to clearance by government agencies that protect the public from unsafe products. That happened again in mid-July. Another step On July 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service opened a 60-day comment period. It is part of a new review process that gives two opportunities for public input. This is the first of two, and the second may come later this year. Part of the public review process is the posting of the entire 163-page petition, available for all to read and comment on. Despite protests from many in the apple industry who say the gain is not worth the risk, the process is continuing that could bring Arctic apples into orchards as early as next year and consumer markets within three years. Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny are the names of two nonbrowning apple cultivars that have been produced, using biotechnology, by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Inc., of Summerland, British Columbia. Carter, founder and president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, in a phone interview with Good Fruit Grower, said the goal is to obtain a 14 SEPTEMBER 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER FONSI—a Finding of No Significant Impact—which would allow the apples to come to market in the same nonregulated way all apples are marketed. In a company press release, Carter said: "We have approximately ten years of real-world field trial experience demonstrating that our Arctic trees behave no differently from conventional trees, and that Arctic apples are compositionally and nutritionally similar to conventional apples," said Carter. "It's not until an Arctic apple is bruised, bitten, or cut, and doesn't brown that the Arctic difference becomes very clear." Arctic apples were created by inserting a reversed orientation of a gene, thus canceling, or "silencing," the normal gene that causes an apple to create polyphenol oxidase (PPO), the enzyme the causes browning when the fruit is bruised, bitten, or cut. Opportunities ahead "Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny are just our first nonbrowning varieties," Carter said. "Any apple variety can be transformed this way. Nonbrowning Fuji and Gala are coming." In the future, Carter would like to attack apple scab, fireblight, and storage scald in the same manner.

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