Genetically-modified debate sparked

After a heated discussion Friday at the B.C. Fruit Growers annual convention in Penticton, orchardists voted not to support genetically-modified tree fruits in Canada until government can assure them there won’t be any impact on market returns.

The vote was not unanimous but passed with a big majority of the delegates to the 122nd annual convention of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, favouring the resolution against GMOs.

Summerland grower Neal Carter’s company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, has a request before the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval for apple varieties which have been genetically modified to prevent cut apples from turning brown.

Carter, who is also a BCFGA member, pleaded with his fellow growers not to reject something they know very little about, asking that the resolution at least be tabled.

“The science is in its infancy and yet you’re painting yourself into a corner at the beginning of the game,” he said.

The resolution delegates were debating is fraught with inaccuracies and asks the government to not do what it is already doing, approving BMOs for open field release, he said.

The resolution called on the government not to approve them “without a protocol in place to assure there is no impact on organic farm certification from the introduction of tree fruit and other GMOs.”

As well, he pointed out that genetically-modified organisms are already used in pesticides, as well as to ferment wine and brew beer. An intensive environmental assessment would be done before any trees went into the ground, he added.

However, BCFGA president Joe Sardinha said it’s an intense subject.

“This is all about market perception. The last thing we want to do is to appear to be open to genetically-modified organisms. Washington State would put us out of business. In European markets, they’re very sensitive on the GMO issue,” he added. “We can’t take the risk of appearing to have an open door policy on this.”

Organic grower Wilf Mennell said he is very concerned about GMOs being introduced into their plant material.

“As an organic grower it would jeopardize my certification,” Mennell said.

Winfield grower Penny Gambell said, “The feedback I’ve heard is very negative. It’s not just organic growers, but regular growers too. Until we understand it better, this is not a road we want to go down.”

However, another BCFGA member, who is also a federal scientist working on the project of creating a non-browning apple, David Lane, told growers the government is spending huge amounts of money on genetics to improve species.

By approving the resolution, growers are “throwing out a lot of useful technology.

“I would suggest GMOs are not defined in the resolution so there isn’t the risk that the government will think we’re not interested in new technology,” he suggested.

The resolution was one of about 30 discussed during the two-day convention in Penticton.


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