This post was originally published on GMO Answers' Medium page.

 

By Neal Carter. Neal Carter is the president and founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. (OSF), a dynamic agriculture biotechnology company specializing in the creation of novel tree fruit varieties. OSF’s flagship project, nonbrowning Arctic® apple varieties, recently became the first genetically engineered apples to be commercially approved in the U.S. and Canada. Outside of OSF, Neal grows and packs apples and cherries at his orchard in British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley. For over 30 years Neal has worked with numerous crops as a bioresource engineer around the globe in over 50 countries, ranging from maize to mango, from growing to harvesting, packing, storage, processing and packaging. It was through this firsthand experience that Neal was persuaded that biotechnology can help agriculture meet ever-expanding global food demand. 

 

 

 

When my wife Louisa and I set out on a journey over 20 years ago I had no idea what to expect or if this day would ever come. But, after years of hard work Arctic® apples will finally begin appearing in select U.S. supermarkets this November and I couldn’t be prouder of our team and what we have accomplished. Though, we know there’s certainly lots of work still to do!

The adventure really started in the mid-90s when I was working as a bioresource engineer on agriculture development projects across the globe. Working in less developed countries and witnessing poverty-stricken villages certainly gives you a deeper appreciation for how our food is grown and the challenges that farmers face. As an orchardist it motivated me to start looking for solutions to grow more sustainable food ourselves.

During my travels I came across research being done by CSIRO – an Australian federal government agency for scientific research – to improve potatoes with a nonbrowning trait through biotechnology. Louisa and I are apple and cherry growers, so I was very aware of the amount of produce that goes to waste as a result of browning. Using a similar biotech approach with apples seemed like a natural fit as it occurred to me that nonbrowning apples would be more appealing and could help boost apple consumption. By silencing the enzyme responsible for browning when apples are bitten, sliced, or bruised we felt we could also significantly reduce food waste across every segment of the supply chain. With those goals in mind, Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. was formed, and we were eventually able to successfully develop what are now known as Arctic® apples.

Today, the goals haven’t changed. Overall, U.S. apple consumption is still far below what it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s, while obesity rates have sharply risen. Snackable, healthy foods are becoming increasingly popular, however, and studies show that children are significantly more likely to eat apples if it they are served pre-sliced. That is one of the reasons why we have decided to initially offer Arctic® apples in ready-to-eat bags of fresh cut apple slices, and fresh slices also highlight our unique nonbrowning benefit and give consumers the convenience factor they desire to suit their busy lifestyles.

Reducing waste is an equally important initiative that Arctic® apples can help support. It’s a shocking statistic that nearly half of all apples produced end up wasted, many due to superficial bruising. We strongly feel that our nonbrowning apples can help reduce that number and preservative free apple slices will be more appealing and offer families an unparalleled eating experience that’s also a wholesome, healthy snacking option. 

 

 

Getting to this point hasn’t been without its challenges, and undoubtedly one of the biggest ones has been addressing the misinformation that is out there regarding biotech foods. Many common misconceptions about biotech often come simply from lack of familiarity and a fear of the unknown. The possibilities with biotechnology advancements are endless and truly give us the opportunity to make impactful differences.

Through my travels, I have witnessed firsthand the hardships across the globe when it comes to malnutrition, starvation and impacts on the environment. Biotech crops can literally save lives, and already are. What we are doing with Arctic® apples represents just a small portion of the possibilities that exist, but we are proud to be playing a role in creating solutions that can help feed our planet in a more sustainable way and are excited for what comes next. Just a little food for thought if you see Arctic® apples at your local supermarket during your next trip to the grocery store!