HOW THE BIOTECH FRUIT TREES WERE STOPPED
Quote from a recent US article:
“Bio-tech crops are popular with profit-conscious U.S. farmers”
Reuters 27 Nov 2000: U.S. Bio-Crop Giant Says to Heed Critics
Quote from the article below:
“The only farmers making any money off GMOs have been those who are growing non-GMO stuff and can prove it.”
“In Iowa, StarLink corn represented 1 percent of the total crop, only 1 percent. It has tainted 50 percent of the harvest.”
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How the Biotech Fruit Trees Were Stopped
ABC NEWS 28 November 2000
from GEAN Update Issue #5 - Published by Genetic Engineering Action Network, USA
Editor: Andy Zimmerman
The Okanagan Valley is an important fruit growing region of British Columbia in Canada. At the Canadian Government’s Summerland agricultural research station, scientists have genetically altered fruit trees so that the fruit doesn’t turn brown when exposed to oxygen, using a patent controlled by a company called Okanagan Biotechnology. But planned field trials of the trees have now been called off.
Linda Edwards email@example.com an organic apple grower, has led the effort to prevent the introduction of the biotech trees into the Okanagan ecosystem. We asked her to tell us her success story.
Q. What has been going on at the research station?
A A local man who is an agricultural engineering
consultant got the patent on a gene that
would stop fruit from turning brown. It came from a big government-funded research
conglomerate in Australia. He got the rights for North America. They were growing the trees
in greenhouses, and doing the molecular work We realized that they were about ready to do
field trials. And we knew that, because bees move pollen around, there could be genetic
Q. Why would anybody want non-browning fruit?
A A lot of it would have gone for processing.
You would go to a salad bar, and there would be
apple slices that would be sitting there all day and they wouldn’t turn brown. Or you could
make apple sauce that didn’t turn brown. Institutional uses of apples. They said, “As a
farmer, you should be happy. If they get bruised when you pick them, they won’t turn
brown.” We said, “Yes, but the bruise is still there. The texture has been destroyed. It’s a
For cherries, it was to keep
the stems from turning brown. When you look at a cherry, if the
stem has turned brown, it doesn’t look fresh. If the stem is green, it looks fresh. Any good
cherry grower can grow a cherry whose stem will not turn brown before the fruit rots. So
this would help the bad cherry growers. You’d have a cherry that nobody would want to eat,
but the stem would be nice and fresh. It would look a lot better than it would taste.
Q. What were your concerns about the field trials?
A Many of us have strong feelings about the
effects of genetically modified organisms on the
environment and health. We knew that that wasn’t something everybody agreed with. But we
did know one thing for sure. As farmers, the first thing we have to do is make a living,
or we’re not farmers. We would lose our markets, period. If you’re organic, and you have
any GMO contamination, you’re no longer organic.
And it wouldn’t just be organics.
The conventional cherry industry is a big one in our area.
And England and Europe are big markets for conventional cherries. So that industry was
treatened as well. The bottom line was, organic growers would be decertified, and if they
have genetically engineered orchards nearby they could not be organic. And conventional
growers would lose markets.
Q What effect has biotech agriculture already had on farmers?
A I have a cousin who was growing organic canola in
Saskatchewan. When the Roundup
Ready canola came in, all my cousin’s neighbors bought into it, because it sounded like a
good idea. The prairie farmers, and I understand it’s the same in the U.S. Midwest, are in a
pretty desperate situation. Try to find organic canola oil now. What little is produced goes to
very lucrative markets overseas. The organic canola growers are getting up to ten times what
the conventional guys are.
But you can’t grow it if
you’re within bee range of Roundup Ready. Any organic canola
grower in Saskatchewan who is within four kilometers of a GMO field can’t take the chance
because it’ll probably be contaminated. My cousin can no longer do it. Because of the
cross-pollination, he lost his market.
Q. How did you stop the field trials?
A We found out it was the federal government that gave permits to do field trials, but the
provincial government could advise on them. And so we wrote to our provincial minister of
agriculture and asked him to look into it. And then we had a meeting with the people from
the research station and the company. Now keep in mind that the man who owns the
company is a local man. He was a friend. The people at the station, these were our friends
and neighbors. And although relationships a year later are still a bit strained, none of us have
stopped talking to each other. They were not happy with us, we know that. But we worked
very hard not to make it an enemy thing. Before the meeting, I invited out the head of the
research station, the main scientist on the job, another scientist, and somebody from the
provincial government. I said, “I want to show you how big and successful the organic
industry is.” Ten years ago, organic tree fruits in our area was five acres of run-down trees.
Now there’s fifty or sixty hundred-acre people who are growing fruit that’s equal to or better
than conventional, and doing much better than conventional growers. I drove my guests
around for three hours, and showed them these orchards, and introduced them to orchardists.
And then I fed them a big spaghetti dinner, and I took them to the meeting. I think they were
surprised how many people came to the meeting, how strongly people felt. We said, “We
will do whatever we legally can do to stop this.” Several people went home and phoned their
lawyers and had them write letters saying, “If I ever lose my markets over this, I will sue
That same week they got a letter from the provincial ministry of agriculture, saying, “There
will be markets that will be threatened.” So all in all, these things came together. And the
research station made the decision not to do field trials. In fact, they put it in writing.
They won’t do them until there’s consumer acceptance and local acceptance. We were
amazed how easy it was. We were prepared to dig in for a much longer time. They live here
too. They didn’t want to go through another meeting with sixty people telling them, “You’re
going to wreck our livelihoods.”
Q. What if somebody else wants to grow genetically engineered crops in your area?
A Our biggest threat is the United
States. Some of our orchardists buy trees from the U.S.
And if you get some real hot variety down there that’s genetically engineered, some farmer
up here might buy it. The main thing we organic growers have to do is to keep working with
the conventional industry. Our local grape growers association said that they would not do
anything that is genetically engineered. And the vegetable growers are thinking about it.
Q. Would you support a GMO-free British Columbia?
A We see the power being in the food producers
making that decision, and then telling the
politicians. Because in our valley, if the majority of farmers, conventional and organic, said
this is what we want, we’d get it.
Q. What about marketing crops as GMO-free?
A It’s being done in the world. Brazil,
for example, is doing extremely well because they’ve got
non-GMO soybeans, and they market that. They’re getting into Japan, and they’re getting
nto Europe. Australia has done that in some areas with canola.
The only farmers making any
money off GMO’s have been those who are growing on-GMO
stuff and can prove it. It certainly didn’t hurt our market. It’s helped us a lot. The Genetic
Engineering Action Network, USA exists to support and further the work of those
organizations and individuals working to address the risks to the environment, biodiversity
and human health, as well as the socioeconomic and ethical consequences of genetic
National Co-ordinator: Renske van Staveren,