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genetically modified

The Arctic Apple, a GMO fruit that has a trait preventing the fruit from browning when cut.

Neal Carter was recently at a party in which cut-up apples were served. The problem? The apples sat out for too long and turned brown.

The orchardist and president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. has proposed a solution to this dilemma.

The Summerland-based company has filed an application with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that could see the introduction of genetically modified apples that don't turn brown.

It will be months, if not years, before a decision on the so-called Arctic Apples is made. However, the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association is already voicing its concern that the genetically modified apples will hurt the market.

"These will drive the prices of other apples down," Kirpal Boparai, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association, said in an interview Wednesday. Mr. Boparai also questioned the quality of arctic apples, and said consumers could be confused about what type of apple they're purchasing.

Lana Popham, MLA for Saanich South and the New Democratic Party's agriculture critic, has started a petition against Arctic Apples that has picked up 2,000 signatures.

In addition to market concerns, Ms. Popham said there's also fear about what effect Arctic Apples will have on the organic status of nearby orchards.

"The certified organic growers could potentially lose their organic status, because of the ability for pollen to be transferred from genetically modified apple trees to certified organic apple trees," she said. "That's one of the strong points around certified organic production, is that there are no genetically modified organisms."

Mr. Carter, however, disputed those points. He said apple pollen is sticky and doesn't blow around in the wind, reducing the likelihood it would spread to other orchards.

Mr. Carter also stood by the quality of Arctic Apples.

"We haven't changed anything in the apple. All we've done is turn off a single enzyme. That makes it so the apple doesn't get enzymatic browning," he said.

Mr. Carter said the apple maintains its flavour and nutrients.

When asked why the Arctic Apples have been met with such opposition, Mr. Carter pointed to change.

"A lot of it is the fear of change, the fact that they don't know what it's going to do to the industry," he said.

Mr. Carter said the apple business hasn't been profitable for years. That's what prompted him to look for other solutions.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits filed its application with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in December. Last month, the agency posted a notice of submission about the arctic apples on its website.

An agency spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Don McRae, MLA for the Comox Valley and B.C.'s Minister of Agriculture, noted that a decision on Arctic Apples is a federal matter. However, he said he has been in contact with the food inspection agency about the growers' concerns.

Mr. McRae said the province only recently started gathering information about the genetically modified apples and it's too early to say whether it supports them.

The province also announced Wednesday it is providing apple and other tree fruit growers with $2-million to help replant low-value orchards that have high-demand varieties.