A Technical Information Bulletin
Northwest Horticultural Council
Genetically Modified Organisms
For millennia, careful selection or traditional breeding methods have produced a range of varieties of apples, pears, cherries, and other tree fruit now grown in the orchards of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Over the past two centuries, both fruit growers and plant breeders have used these traditional breeding methods to improve the quality of all deciduous tree fruit.
Agricultural biotechnology is a collection of modern scientific techniques, including genetic engineering. These techniques are used to modify or improve plants, animals and microorganisms, and enable scientists to either insert or delete genetic material. Genetic engineering alters the genetic makeup of an organism and is primarily used to create novel organisms selected for desirable traits. Organisms produced by genetic engineering are often referred to as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
Plant breeding and effective selection of key traits in plant improvement programs are basic to the long-term success of fruit growers and their customers, yielding improved varieties and more cost-effective orchard systems. The Pacific Northwest tree fruit industry strongly supports novel research in tree fruit genetics and genomics.
At the same time, the Northwest Horticultural Council (NHC) is aware that concerns exist both in the U.S. and abroad regarding GMOs. Two examples: 1) a number of foreign governments either prohibit or restrict access to GMO foods to their markets and 2) consumer labeling at the retail level of GMO foods remains a contentious issue for many within the United States.
In recognition of this complexity and given the facts of current GMO tree fruit developments, the Northwest Horticultural Council opposed federal approval of a petition for non-regulated status for two varieties of GMO apples. However, despite our opposition, approval for deregulation was granted by the United States Department of Agriculture in February of 2015. The ‘Granny Smith’ and ‘ Golden Delicious’ apples in question are to be marketed under the name “Arctic,” both developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Inc. of Summerland, British Columbia, Canada, and altered by GMO technology to inhibit browning when cut or sliced. (Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Inc. was purchased by Intrexon Corporation of Germantown, Maryland, soon after USDA’s regulatory approval.)
Orchardists in the Pacific Northwest remain committed to listening to their customers on GMO issues and working with other grower groups, agricultural scientists, and government regulatory officials to continue to maintain a safe, wholesome, and affordable food supply.
The Northwest Horticultural Council represents the deciduous tree fruit industry of Idaho, Oregon and Washington on national and international policy issues affecting growers and shippers. For further information, please contact Kate Woods, Vice President, at (509) 453-3193. For more information on agricultural biotechnology in general, go to www.usda.gov/agencies/biotech/index.html or www.nwhort.org/BiotechLinks.html.