President of Okanagan Speciality Fruits Answers Public’s Questions on New GMO Article Apple

Arctic Apple was recently approved for sale in the US admin February 19, 2015

Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., creator of the non-browning GMO Arctic Apple, participated in an open AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit.com on February 18th. The Arctic Apple is the first GMO apple and the first ever GMO with a direct consumer benefit to be approved for sale.

Click here for the full Q&A.

For your convenience, we grabbed the top questions.

Skip to question:

  1. How did you overcome the expensive regulatory hurdles?
  2. Does Okanagan Specialty Fruits plan to do any major PR to educate people on the safety of GMOs?
  3. Are you concerned that the very vocal anti-biotech crowd will hurt sales of the Arctic Apple?
  4. Do you think biotech foods are the future of ecologically conscious agriculture?
  5. What do you think is the best way to promote understanding in the body public about biotech foods and reduce chemophobia?
  6. Did creating the arctic apple pose any interesting challenges biologically? What was your approach?
  7. Some activities claim that these apples will require more pesticides. Is there evidence of this?
  8. Is there any possibility in the future of breeding this trait into current popular apple varieties?

MennoniteDan asks: How did you, and your company, overcome the [assumed] expensive regulatory hurdles that are in place; in the US? There is an assumption “out there” that only large players (read: DuPont, DOW, Monsanto, Syngenta etc.) have the capitol/resources to enter the GMO market. Could you expand some on this over-all theme?

OSF_Neal_Carter: Hah…It is expensive, but as a small company we managed to be creative and find some frugal solutions to otherwise expensive problems.

For us this meant doing most of the work in-house, taking longer in regulatory, and having our personnel wear multiple hats. Our research manager became regulatory manager over the last 5 years.

We also got a lot of free advice from both the private and public sector, and we didn’t pay ourselves much for a long time!


Sleekery asksDoes Okanagan Specialty Fruits plan to do any major PR to try to educate people on the science and safety of GMOS and dispel the pseudoscience that many believe? Would you partner with other major GMO manufacturers?

OSF_Neal_Carter: For years we have been making a significant effort to educate both the industry and consumers of the benefits of genetic engineering.

As a small company we have made a significant commitment (2 of our 7 staff members) to educating consumers about GMOs. We have had to be creative in doing this and have worked with a host of different groups to project the benefits of GM crops.

We have answered questions on GMOanswers, we have engaged with dietitians and presented at conferences around the world. We respond to consumer questions through our website daily, and we put up educational blogs on our website, etc.

In terms of partnering, it would depend on the circumstance and our role. We are members of several industry groups that work on consumer outreach. (BIO, Biotech Canada, etc.)


TerreneSpoon asks: Are you concerned that the very vocal anti-biotech crowd will hurt sales of the Arctic apple?

OSF_Neal_Carter: We think Arctic apples are amazing, and we have had the chance to play with them for the last 10 years. Now that they are deregulated, we can finally show the consumer how great these apples are, and we are confident they are going to love them.

There are a lot of really cool things you can do with Arctic apples that normal apples aren’t capable of. Yesterday we used cookie cutters to make some apple fish, stick those in some blue jello!

The anti-GMO crowd doesn’t understand the opportunities available here.


RottingLepha asks: Do you think biotech foods are the future of ecologically conscious agriculture?

OSF_Neal_Carter: Yes, absolutely. They are and will continue to be at least part of the solution. Reducing inputs and food waste.


RottingLepha asks: What do you think is the best way to promote understanding in the body public about biotech foods and reduce chemophobia?

OSF_Neal_Carter: Education and transparency is our approach. It seems to be working.


Searine: The apple genome is hilariously large and complex. Did creating the arctic apple pose any interesting challenges biologically? What was your approach?

OSF_Neal_Carter: Absolutely. The target gene, polyphenol oxidase (PPO), is a gene family. So in the end we had to turn off four genes to inhibit PPO activity.

Interestingly, there is actually 19 loci of PPO, multiple isozymes on multiple chromosomes. All sorts of challenges.

It is an agrobacterium mitigated transformation using leaf ex-plants.


mem_somervilleI’ve seen claims in the media that these apples will require more pesticides. Why are activists saying that–do they have any evidence of this?

OSF_Neal_Carter: I have no clue where they got this idea. There is no evidence to support this. Our data and experience shows that a typical apple orchard spray program is as effective with Arctic apples as with other varieties.  In our field trial, Arctic and controls are co-mingled and without reading the tags it is impossible to tell the difference (unless you cut the fruit).


ethidium-bromide: While I’m sure there are issues with intellectual property rights, is there any possibility in the future of breeding this trait into current popular apple varieties, such as Granny Smith or Honeycrisp?

OSF_Neal_CarterArctic Granny is already done! We are looking at introducing these traits into other popular varieties, and will be releasing an Arctic version of Fuji and Gala next. With respect to Honeycrisp, it’s on the list.

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