SynBioBeta is hosting Neal Carter at its SynBioBeta San Francisco 2017 Conference in October as the Day 1 Keynote Speaker. Neal’s experience and knowledge in the applications of biotechnology to the world of food production will make for a compelling and not to be missed speech.
Neal is the driving force behind the development of Arctic® apples, best known as the original nonbrowning apples. Arctic apples are currently being grown in three varieties: Arctic® Golden, Arctic® Granny and Arctic® Fuji. Read the interview below to get Neal’s thoughts on Arctic® apples and the ever expanding role of biotechnology.
What inspires you in your current role as President and Founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruits?
What inspires me most with OSF is our ability to truly make a difference with advancements in biotechnology. Biotech crops are already saving lives and they have the potential to save thousands more. I’ve been across the globe to over 50 countries and have witnessed firsthand poverty-stricken villages and the hardships they face in feeding their families.
If we can all embrace the technology that will aid us in efficiently and sustainably producing the food we need to feed this planet we can make a powerful impact on the sustainability of both the environment and people across the world. It doesn’t get much more motivating than that!
How did you come to research the production of Arctic® apples? What are your goals with this work?
I have over 30 years experience working as both a bioresource engineer and orchardist and in my travels, I have experienced firsthand the value that biotechnology can offer across all manner of crops and improvements. In particular, in the mid-90s I came across research being done by CSIRO – an Australian federal government agency for scientific research – to enhance potatoes with a nonbrowning trait through biotechnology. And as an apple grower, I became very aware that apple consumption had been declining for decades while obesity rates had simultaneously been sharply rising. My wife and I felt that we could help boost apple consumption through a similar biotech approach with apples, as nonbrowning apples would be more appealing and convenient. Additionally, we felt this small genetic change could also significantly reduce food waste, as nearly half of all apples produced end up wasted, many due to superficial bruising.
While our main goals with Arctic® apples are to boost apple consumption and reduce food waste, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Arctic® apples benefit nearly every segment of the supply chain by reducing waste and offering improved product quality. The supply chain will profit from reduced shrink and enhanced eye-appeal, while consumers gain convenience, versatility, and a more appealing eating experience. Ag-biotech has the potential to not only boost product appeal and reduce waste, but it can also reduce water use, pesticides, and overall production costs while increasing yields and improving lives. We plan to keep innovating to leverage the benefits of this technology!
What challenges persist in your field, and what progress has your team – or other peers – made in overcoming them?
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest challenges we face not only at our company specifically, but within the agricultural biotechnology industry as a whole, is the misinformation out there regarding biotech foods. There are many common misconceptions about biotech and that often comes simply from lack of familiarity and a fear of the unknown.
One of our initiatives here at OSF is public outreach and education. Our goal is to educate as many people as possible, including sharing that there is an extremely rigorous process that all biotech foods must satisfy before they can be freely grown and sold. Arctic® apples are the most studied apple there is and reviews from experts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Health Canada all agree that Arctic® apples are as safe and healthy as other apples.
We have also found in our experience that transparency and enabling the public to experience Arctic® apples firsthand are very impactful in educating consumers and gaining their support.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to budding young biotech entrepreneurs?
If I could offer any advice to young biotech entrepreneurs, it would be not to be afraid to think big. Technology is amazing and the possibilities are endless. Yes, there are some tough critics out there. But the work we are doing can truly make a positive impact in so many aspects and that makes it all worth it. My career has offered me so many unique and rewarding experiences. The most exciting part is that Arctic® apples are just the beginning here at OSF.
To hear more of the Arctic® apples story, be sure to join us at SynBioBeta San Francisco 2017. You can register here.
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