An apple grower in B.C.’s Okanagan region says that despite public resistance, he’s part of an effort to win government approval to market a genetically modified apple that has flesh that won’t turn brown if left exposed.

The Arctic Apple doesn’t oxidize — or turn brown — because its developers have figured out how to adjust the growing process to inhibit the browning enzyme.

Okanagan grower Neal Carter, who’s pushing for approval of the apple variety, says cutting the small link in an apple's genetic chain will do great things for the apple industry.

"Whether it’s a grower, packer, shipper, consumer, food service, fresh cut, you name it, [enzymatic browning] does bad stuff to the fruit. So an Arctic Apples, where we've inhibited enzymatic browning, has strong values all along that value chain," Carter said.

But one public opinion survey commissioned by the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association and a group of Quebec growers suggests the public isn’t ready to accept fruit or any other basic food that has been genetically altered.

"We wanted to find out more about what the public thought about that because it's really the risk of adverse public reaction," said the BCFGA’s Glen Lucas.

Polling details

The poll was conducted between June 26 and June 29 by Leger Marketing.

According to the BCFGA, the LegerWeb panel was polled, with 1,501 responses, designed so that the proportion of respondents, when grouped by region, gender, age, and language, are representative of the Canadian population.

Due to the methods used, it’s not possible to estimate a margin of error.

The poll found that:

  • 69 per cent of respondents opposed approval of the Arctic Apple.
  • 71 per cent support a special category of food like milk and fruit that should not be modified at all.
  • 76 per cent said they don't feel adequately informed by the government about genetically modified foods.

Carter said the survey isn't really a reflection of attitudes toward the Arctic Apple, but demonstrates the need for more consumer education.

"We need to spend more time educating the public on biotechnology, on its use in food," he said.

The BCFGA agrees that the government needs to take more responsibility, Lucas said.

"They regulate this sector, they need to make sure the public is aware of that and that will settle market down and that would take the risk out of the industry, and we would change our position on it," Lucas said.

Carter said if his apple is approved in Canada, it would probably be about five years before it's available to consumers.

With files from the CBC's Leia Hutchings