February 14, 2015 - 9:53 AM
VANCOUVER - A South Okanagan firm that created a controversial apple genetically engineered not to turn brown has been given a stamp of approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. of Summerland spent almost five years getting the U.S. approval after engineering its Arctic apples to retain their colour after being exposed to air.
The U.S. government body announced Friday the apple is unlikely to pose a risk to agriculture or plants inside the country and the company can now market the product to growers.
Company president Neal Carter said critics of the apple need to understand the fruit is safe for consumption.
"This is a very, very arduous, rigorous and comprehensive review in science and regulatory oversight. These are the safest apples in the world," he said. "They're certainly the most tested apples in the world."
Unlike conventional breeding for a new variety of apple, spending years cross pollinating varieties, this process targeted a single gene of the apple, he said.
"In our case it's very specific. We know exactly the gene we're targeting," he said. "It's the equivalent of sort of flicking a light switch versus turning off the power grid to New York City."
Fred Steele of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association said that while the U.S. government and scientists may approve of the product, consumers may not, and the apple poses a risk to the organic market.
But Carter said the Arctic apples are a huge opportunity to introduce the product to the food-service industry.
He said baby carrots changed consumers' consumption in the 1990s and the Arctic apple could do the same thing.
"We're going to see apples in new shapes and forms in products and that's going to be really exciting."
Carter said he expects the golden and granny varieties of the apple to be available on U.S. grocery shelves by late 2016 and he hopes the Canadian government will make a decision on the product soon.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015