Questions and answers: Arctic Apple

The Government of Canada has determined that the genetically modified "Arctic apple" is as safe for humans, livestock and the environment as conventional apples. In Canada, novel products are only authorized once regulators are satisfied that every aspect of the assessments has been adequately addressed.

Arctic apple required three separate assessments. Health Canada assessed the safety and nutrition of Arctic apple for use as food, while the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) assessed the safety and nutrition of Arctic apple for use as a livestock feed and suitability for release into the environment.

How does the Arctic apple stop the browning process?

A gene was introduced into the Arctic apple that results in a reduction in the levels of enzymes that make apples turn brown when sliced. In every other way, the Arctic apple tree and its fruit are identical to any other apple.

What was considered in the CFIA environmental assessment of the Arctic apple?

The environmental safety assessment examined five broad categories of possible impacts:

  • the potential of the plant to become a weed or invade natural habitats;
  • the potential, and consequences of, gene flow to related plants;
  • the potential for a plant to become a plant pest;
  • the potential impact of the plant or its gene products on non-target species; and
  • the potential impact on biodiversity.

What was considered in the CFIA livestock feed assessment of the Arctic apple?

The livestock feed safety assessment considered the potential impact of Arctic apple on:

  • livestock nutrition; and
  • animal health and human safety as it relates to the potential transfer of residues into foods of animal origin, and worker/bystander exposure to the feed.

What data were used for the assessments?

As part of the assessment process, Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. provided extensive data for review by regulators at the CFIA and Health Canada. The submitted data included a detailed description of how Arctic apple was developed and how the non-browning trait functions. Regulators also accessed relevant peer-reviewed studies from the published literature. Questions and information of a scientific nature that were received during the Notice of Submission comment period were also considered by CFIA and Health Canada regulators during the assessment process.

Canada's regulatory framework requires the product developer to generate the data necessary to fulfil the requirements of the safety and nutrition assessments. This approach to data generation is consistent with that of regulatory bodies around the world, and is the standard practice to ensure that the safety and nutrition of the product can be evaluated without imposing an unnecessary financial burden on Canadians.

Were effects on other apple growers considered?

The Government of Canada will only authorize a product for use as food, for use as livestock feed, and for release into the environment, if, after a thorough scientific assessment, it is determined to be as safe as its conventional counterparts. In order to protect the scientific integrity of the assessment process, socio-economic factors, such as potential market reaction, are not considered in the decision-making process with respect to novel products.

In Canada, once a novel product, such as Arctic apple, has been approved for environmental release and for use as food and livestock feed, it is considered to be equivalent to its conventional counterparts. Producers are free to choose amongst products deemed to be safe and to implement the production methods and marketing strategies of their choice. Similarly, the Government of Canada supports consumer choice, and strives to provide consumers with access to meaningful, credible, and truthful information as it relates to biotechnology and food.

Does the Government of Canada endorse the Arctic apple?

The Government of Canada neither advocates for, nor opposes, specific products. Regulatory decisions are evidence-based and impartial.

Why is this product needed when there are other ways to stop an apple from browning?

The potential market demand for any new product is a matter of business judgement. It is up to Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. to determine whether there is sufficient customer demand to merit commercializing Arctic apple.

Will Arctic apples be labeled?

Since the Arctic apple has been determined to be as safe as conventional apples, Health Canada does not require special labelling on this product. The decision to proceed with voluntary labelling is solely that of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. In Canada, voluntary labelling is permitted to provide consumers with information that is not related to the safety of the product. The national standard, "Voluntary Labelling and Advertising of Foods that Are and Are Not Products of Genetic Engineering", states that products can be voluntarily labelled as GE or non-GE, provided conditions are met and the claim is understandable, informative, accurate, and not misleading.

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