Highlighted by the launch of our new website and our amazing experience at PMA Fresh Summit, it’s been a busy few weeks for OSF! We want to turn the clock back this week, though, and share a blog post published back in September by the author of “Universal Genes”, a site that discusses GM crops, science communication and science of our foods:
Warming up to the Arctic® Apple – September 17, 2015
By Universal Genes
Last week at the Agricultural Bioscience International Conference (ABIC 2015), I met one of the most awe-inspiring women involved in providing education about genetic modified fruits and squealed with delight when I received LinkedIn confirmation from her shortly after. She is Director of Business Development and Marketing for Okanagan Specialty Fruits, developers of Arctic® apples – apples that are genetically engineered to not turn brown – which is an early stage success story around the globe.
With great enthusiasm let me share the Arctic® apple story as it travels from laboratory and apple farms towards market, and how one opportunity to view and learn about this technology can inspire you to find the successful communication pathway when talking about controversial GM technology.
A bite into the Arctic® apple
ABIC 2015 was a chance to meet leading mangers, scientist and business communicators in many industries and be linked to innovative thinking, humanity-driven science and technological, need-inspired inventions. Included in the delegate list were many inspiring science communicators including Jennifer Armen. Her role is to communicate the science of Arctic® apples to her audience, and just as importantly, communicate the benefits of Arctic® apples in a way that everyone can relate to.
Jennifer Armen captured her audience with powerful messages such as; “if the public cannot relate to the benefits, it won’t succeed”, and “consumers must have a reason to choose Arctic® apples, because they won’t want them just because the technology enabled us to develop them”. Furthermore, these apples must be accepted in the specialty fruits arena (which I love since their company name is Okanagan Specialty Fruits) and by apple producers, marketers and consumers alike.
Science more Golden than Arctic
And why wouldn’t you be ok with these amazing apples? These innovative, value-added fruits have gone through around 20 years of development and can address important challenges, such as the fact that around 40% of apple produced are wasted each year, partially due to browning and bruising. OSF’s eight person team is led by Neal Carter, a bioresource engineer who, along with his wife, are apple farmers in Canada’s Okanagan Valley.
OSF introduced a transgene into the Arctic® apple that resulted in a reduction in the levels of the enzyme that make apples turn brown when sliced. Apples turn brown when the fruit’s phenolic compounds react with oxygen. This oxidation process is driven by polyphenol oxidase (PPO), an enzyme. Some apple varieties brown quickly, others slowly; but all can benefit from PPO being silenced (around 8 PPO genes). In every other way, Arctic® apple trees and fruit are identical to their conventional counterparts.
The first Arctic® apple varieties, Arctic® Golden and Arctic® Granny, received commercial approval in the U.S. on February 13th, 2015 and in Canada on March 20th, 2015. Now Jennifer Armen is working with OSF’s partners to bring these and the other varieties to other markets round the globe.
Neal Carter, president and founder of Okanagan, says his GM apples cost around $10 million to develop. This is great, as most GM crops require budgets up to $130 million in order to progress from the lab, through regulatory bodies, and then to the market. For this reason, most GM crops come from large scale companies like Monsanto or the products are shelved for future consideration.
Success involves not just satisfying regulatory requirements on the way to market, it also requires the approval of the individuals who will grow, market and eat Arctic® apples. OSF found that after learning that Arctic® apples are GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) some industry members and consumers expressed some concerns, many of them have to do with public perceptions of GMOs in general. But OSF did their homework and put a major focus on educational outreach.
Over time, OSF participated in trade shows, surveys, forums and meetings and ‘showed the results’ to anyone interested in learning about the science and/or the apples themselves. Some loved the idea immediately after being educated but many had misconceptions of the technology, which were largely addressed once they had the chance to visually experience the product themselves. Through their experience, OSF learned the value of relating benefits of the product to both consumers and industry members, which helped boost interest in their nonbrowning apples.
After her presentation at ABIC 2015, Jennifer Armen travelled to New Zealand to further spread OSF’s messages about Arctic® apples and their vision of marrying the best of nature with the best of science. OSF hopes to look at delivering real solutions to real supply chain problems for other crops in the near future as well.
I am excited as this amazing little apple is a step forward on the positive GM pathway to market, and I’m hoping we will see it on Australian store shelves soon. And yes, it is labelled and gives many who perhaps have a ‘chilly’ view of GM to choose to have a bite and see the ‘golden’ benefits.