This Apple Keeps Your Agrologist Away (And Your Lawyer Nearby)

 

A fact unknown to many, apples were some of the earliest agricultural harvests of settlers to present-day Canada. And by early, I don’t mean Canadian-Confederation-early, I mean North-America-was-recently-discovered-early, which corresponds to roughly 1606, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia (Crowe & Hampson, 2015).  It makes sense then that the fruit was Quebec’s number one top marketed fruit in 2016 by a large margin (Statistics Canada, 2018). After all, the trees are ideally suited to the sloping topography in many of Quebec’s regions and make effective use of land which might not be put to as much utility otherwise.

Canada has consequently enjoyed many developments in the generation and successful mass-marketing of apple varieties over the years. More recently is the Okanagan Specialty Fruits invention of the Arctic Apple: a trademarked and patented apple, it’s the first GMO variety available (American Fruit Grower, 2012). What’s cool about it is that it doesn’t brown when cut, thanks to a nifty gene silencing sequence. This silencing dampens a gene in the apple that causes browning via the typical expression of an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase; when silenced, expression drops to below 10% of its usual expression while supposedly retaining the other characteristics in an otherwise ordinary apple. This is all nice and dandy for grocery stores and consumers wishing to reduce waste and maintain product quality for longer durations. It might even be beneficial to apple farmers seeking to perhaps reduce apple cullage post-harvest due to bruising and blemishing (USDA, 2014). As of 2017, the CFIA has officially approved the safety of the Arctic Apple for human consumption . However, it presents something to be wary of for Canadian producers eager to bandwagon on this innovation, as our southern counterparts did in 2015 when the first American Arctic trees were planted and eventually commercialized in 2017.

Recall the famous Canadian case between the prairie grain farmer and the agricultural biotech giant. In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of Monsanto’s prosecution of a Saskatchewan farmer who allegedly used Monsanto’s genetic technology unrightfully in growing genetically modified canola. From this event stemmed a Pandora’s box which proved to solidify a matter of gray area in Canadian legislation on biotechnology protection: although higher lifeforms such as plants were previously deemed non-patentable in Canada, what constituted patentable material was subjective, until this case (SCC, 2002).  Ever since, it was determined that modified genes and cells, which are patentable, extend their protection to their corresponding lifeform to which they owe their presence (SCC, 2004).  What does this mean to farmers?

Genetically Engineered Apple

Since the company who created Arctic Apple patented genes in both Canada (and the US), they potentially own the rights to the use of all life forms containing the genetic material in our country. This means that, despite their claim that this event is unlikely, if a farmer owns both trees grafted with Arctic Apple-containing scions as well as non-Arctic Apple trees and cross pollination were to occur, there is a possibility that some of the resulting fruit seeds might contain Arctic material (Arctic Apples, 2016). This possibility is even confirmed by Arctic Apples themselves on their corporate website! By that point, the lines of what then becomes legally-protected product get blurred, and the arguments from the Monsanto v. Schmeiser case could come into play again.

What am I most worried about? Like what would be for any other GMO apple, organic certification standards come to mind, remember in Quebec that producers in organic agriculture mustn’t have contamination from GMO crops otherwise a 3-year period of re-conversion to organic is required, if found. While the risks for such occurring are minimal and rare especially if the appropriate precautions are taken, this could be pertinent to farmers who are contemplating higher return alternatives to conventional apples, where both organic and GMO are attractive but doing both organic alongside GMO crops is an unfeasible goal. What’s more, the market for organic produce is only growing as Canadian consumers especially become more literate of what they’re putting on their plates (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2010).  All in all, important considerations for producers looking into this new option.

But don’t take it from me. Personally, I like my apples a little browned and softer than the rest of the population.

 

 

 

References

“Addressing Common Misconceptions of Arctic® Orchards and Fruit.” Arctic Apples. 2016,           www.arcticapples.com/addressing-common-misconceptions-arctic-orchards-and-fruit/.Accessed11 February 2019.

Anonymous“Arctic Apple Making Waves”American Fruit Grower; Sep/Oct 2012; 132, 9;             ProQuest pg. 20

Canada,Statistics Canada, 2018, “Fruits and Vegetables Survey.” Fruits and Vegetables Survey

Canada, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, International Markets Bureau. “Market Analysis           Report.” Market Analysis Report, 2010.

Crowe, A.d. and Cheryl R. Hampson. “Sweet Apple”. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 31 March         2015, Historica Canada. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sweet-         apple. Accessed 11 February 2019.

Harvard College v. Canada (Commissioner of Patents), [2002] 4 S.C.R. 45, 2002 SCC 76

Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser, [2004] 1 S.C.R. 902, 2004 SCC 34

United States, Congress, “Okanagan Specialty Fruits Petition (10-161-01p) for Determination of Non-Regulated Status of ArcticTM Apple Events GD743 and GS784.” , 2014.Okanagan           Specialty Fruits Petition (10-161-01p) for Determination of Non-Regulated Status of         ArcticTM Apple Events GD743 and GS784,

2 responses to “This Apple Keeps Your Agrologist Away (And Your Lawyer Nearby)”

  1. charlottecoutinbeaulieu says:

    1. The title of the article is intriguing and very catchy. It gives the reader just enough information to trigger his curiosity and a clue of the topic, but doesn’t give the whole answer right away.
    2. The message I captured from the article is not so much about the apple itself, but more on how to regulate GMOs since it is almost impossible to control their propagation.
    3. The historical and legal context in which the author gets us into allows to understand the root of the problem. The vulgarization made to move from the legal language to the practice makes the understanding of the real impacts of Artic Apples even easier.
    4. For me, the most compelling information is the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada in favour of Monsanto in 2004. This event wide opened the door to biotechnology abuses.
    5. In the last paragraph, “if the appropriate precautions are taken” is mentioned. I wonder what are those precautions? Maybe this could replace the first paragraph which is broader. It hurts to say that since the first paragraph allows a pertinent contextualization. Nice touch of humour, by the way!

    Charlotte

  2. saschamacintoshhobson says:

    1. Funny, intriguing

    2. That patent rights supersede accidental ownership rights, and to tread lightly when farming cross-pollinated crops next to a GMO producer!

    3. I felt the strongest aspect of the blog was the use of a cautionary tale to reflect on the potential legal unknowns that may arise in the use of intellectual property in an open agricultural environment. This leads one to imagine potential scenarios that may arise in the rather unpredictable vast and outdoor environments of our agricultural fields. Scenarios, such as the one presented in this blog, are hard to imagine manifesting before they in fact do.

    4. I thought the most compelling argument was the potential draw back for organic producers that need to, at all costs, avoid these types of “contaminants” from entering their fields. This has been a legitimate concern for organic producers of cross-pollinated crops (such as, alfalfa) whom are often surrounded by conventional producers.

    5. The one suggestion I would propose, would be to edit the title (as clever as the thought was). This apple cultivar’s modified genetics doesn’t change its growing constraints/needs, or any of the agrologic know-how needed for its production.

Leave a Reply

Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.