A new survey suggests resistance among consumers to genetically modified foods remains high.
The survey, conducted by the BC Fruit Growers Association (BCFGA) and the Quebec Apple Producers Association, was commissioned in reaction to the application for approval of the genetically modified “Arctic” apple.
The survey aimed to discover what effect the Arctic apple might have on apple markets in the event that there is a consumer backlash against the apple if it is approved.
Of the 1,501 people surveyed, 69 percent said they are against approval of the apple.
Of the 1,501 people surveyed, 69 percent said they are against approval of the apple, which is genetically engineered to not turn brown when cut.
Seventy six percent feel that the federal government has not provided enough information about genetically modified foods, while 91 percent are in favour of government regulations that would make the labelling of GM food products mandatory.
“Ninety one percent said there should be mandatory labelling and that’s huge. When you’re doing public opinion surveys you don’t normally see a result like that. That to me says that the public wants to know what’s going on,” says BCFGA general manager Glen Lucas.
“The government needs to wake up and get things right on this not only for the public’s sake but for the people who are proponents for GMOs. They are doing them a disservice by not better informing the public.”
Lucas says the survey results have been submitted to the Arctic apple review currently being conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
He notes that while survey respondents were not as opposed to genetic modification in general, there was more opposition when asked about specifics such as the Arctic apple.
“Once we started getting into specifics it seemed like there was more public opposition to GMO food.”
Other groups have also expressed concerns about the Arctic apple. Organic farmers worry that if their apples are contaminated by the GM variety, such as through pollen transferred by bees, they could lose their organic certification.
“This GM apple is a useless waste of time from start to finish,” says Wendy Wright of the Okanagan Greens Society, “The only conclusion is to stop this GM apple right away before our markets are damaged.”
‘Let the Consumer Decide’
Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, the biotech company that developed the Arctic apple, says he’s aware of the criticism surrounding GM foods.
He notes that the apple has been studied for 10 years and if approved, it will be labelled with a sticker bearing the Arctic logo.
“If consumers are wanting to look for an Arctic apple they’ll be able to find it and if they are wanting to avoid an Arctic apple they’ll be able to do so, which we think is important,” he says.
“It’s just like any other apple other than it doesn’t go brown when bruised, bitten, or sliced and we should let the consumer decide if that apple is of interest in the marketplace.”
The apple is pending approval in both the US. and Canada. The US Department of Agriculture is currently holding a 60-day comment period before regulators make a decision.
While the USDA posted over 160 pages of data from Okanagan Specialty Fruits, the CFIA’s comment process, which ended July 3, was based on a two-page summary—the data itself was not provided.
This lack of information drew criticism from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, an anti-GMO group based in Ottawa.
“The CFIA should be deeply embarrassed for wasting Canadians’ time on a false invitation to comment on the GM apple,” says CBAN’s Lucy Sharatt.
The group has submitted a letter to the CFIA expressing frustration at what it says is a lack of transparency and calling for a halt of the review.
Last year, the BCFGA passed a resolution against the introduction of all GM fruit, stating concerns about consumer backlash and the difficulty of protecting organic growers from contamination.
Melissa Shaw is a journalism student living in Toronto.