Will the public bite when it comes to the Arctic Apple?

"I'm not arguing the science. But if (Health Canada) decided there's no problem with it, then there should be no problem labelling it..."

The question lingering over the Arctic Apple in the aftermath of Health Canada’s approval of the divisive genetically-modified fruit is whether the public will bite, says an advocate for growers.

“It will be a couple of years until the apple is actually in the market, and how it will do is the great unknown,” said Fred Steele, president of the BC Fruit Growers’ Association.

The government and other proponents of the non-browning apple have repeatedly said “the market will decide” when addressing the question of whether it will bear fruit, economically.

To answer that question fairly, Steele said he believes there needs to be a bit of truth in the marketing.

“I’m not arguing the science. But if (Health Canada) decided there’s no problem with it, then there should be no problem labelling it,” he said. “Let’s let the people decide. If it’s fine—fine. If it’s not, (consumers) will let them know.”

Grocery shopping, he pointed out, should be no less transparent than car shopping.

“If I were to ask you to buy a car, you’d want to know what kind of car it was, who made it and what it contained,” he said, pointing out that labelling would create a level playing field for standard, organic and, now, GMO producing growers.

Although some are looking at Health Canada’s decision with a jaundiced eye, Summerland company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, celebrated the move.

“This follows U.S. approval of our first two non-browning varieties, Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny, earlier this year on Feb. 13  by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So, nearly two decades after we founded OSF, Arctic apples can now be grown throughout both Canada and the U.S.,” reads a statement the company released, Friday.

“Over the next couple years, we will be working hard with our grower partners to get as many Arctic trees in the ground as we can. With the support of our friends in the apple industry, and eager consumers alike, we hope to have small, test-market quantities of fruit available starting in late 2016, with greater availability each year thereafter.”

According to the Health Canada page where the approval of the apple is posted, the science behind the Arctic apple is quite simple.

“A gene was introduced into the Arctic apple that results in a reduction in the levels of enzymes that make apples turn brown when sliced,” reads the government website. “In every other way, the Arctic apple tree and its fruit are identical to any other apple.”

Scientists with expertise in molecular biology, microbiology, toxicology, chemistry and nutrition conducted a thorough analysis of the data and the protocols provided by the applicant to ensure the validity of the results.

“Following this assessment, it was determined that the changes made to the apple did not pose a greater risk to human health than apples currently available on the Canadian market,” it read. “In addition, Health Canada also concluded that the Arctic apple would have no impact on allergies, and that there are no differences in the nutritional value of the Arctic apple compared to other traditional apple varieties available for consumption.”

Health Canada’s assessment of Arctic apple was conducted according to the Guidelines for Safety Assessment of Novel Foods. The approach taken by Health Canada in the safety assessment of GM foods is based upon scientific principles developed through expert international consultation over the last 20 years with agencies such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The approach taken by Canada is currently applied by regulatory agencies around the world in countries such as the European Union, Australia/New Zealand, Japan, and the United States.