Articles on Genetically Modified strawberries are floating around the Internet claiming that the berries are genetically modified with peanuts to prevent freezing.
If this is true, people with peanut allergies could have an allergic reaction if they ate these ‘GMO” strawberries – a significant danger!
According to the Food Allergy Research and Education study, the number of children in the United States who have a peanut allergy has more than tripled between 1997 and 2008. Peanut allergies can result in a mild reaction or a potentially deadly reaction (anaphylaxis).
So is there such a thing as a genetically modified strawberry?
GM Strawberry; Myth or Truth?
Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMO, are defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as, “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.”
Decoded Science had the opportunity to interview Dr. Kevin Folta, a molecular biologist with the University of Florida. Dr. Folta has also been involved in mapping the strawberry genome, which he will talk about in our interview. We asked Dr. Folta about the information on the Internet about strawberries being combined with peanuts to help prevent them from freezing, and whether this is true. Dr. Folta responded,
“Absolutely not…. The reason this disinformation comes out is because there are people out there that want to damage conventional farming. They want to harm farmers that use any kind of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or other agriculture inputs. It is sad because it raises skepticism in good food at a time when we need people to eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible!”
So there you have it – the strawberries at your local grocery store or farm stand do not have any peanut DNA in them. But why haven’t strawberry growers jumped on the research bandwagon, if it could help them improve shelf-life and reduce freezing? Dr. Folta explains,
“It is easy to make a transgenic (GMO) strawberry. We do it all the time, but only for research purposes to understand what genes do. … Unfortunately, we cannot commercialize any GMO strawberries. We have plants in lab that show great promise in growing with fewer fungicides, which are expensive for farmers and end up in the environment.
We can’t commercialize these because it is too expensive, requires too much unnecessary testing (it is a strawberry gene, in a strawberry), and the industry is probably afraid of consumer response.
Consumers don’t understand that this would be a great benefit to the environment and the farmer, and poses no risk at all to humans.”
Decoded Science asked Dr. Folta how long would it takes to develop a GMO strawberry and if someone did develop a commercialized GMO strawberry, how would consumers know? Dr. Folta tells us that the process to develop the plant is relatively fast – about six months between the laboratory and planting, but progressing to the actual sale of the plant is a very long and complicated process, “taking tens of millions of dollars, massive independent testing, and at least five years.” In addition, the USDA allows public comments during the process, and as Dr. Folta tells us, we’d hear about it from anti-GMO groups.
Disinformation on the Internet abounds, online. According to Dr. Folta, “There are no GMO strawberries, oranges or tomatoes, but the websites say there are. I’m not sure if they are misinformed or lying, but either way it is not good to build fear around good food.”
GMO Fruits on the Market
There are no GMO strawberries on the market – but are any other GMO fruits for sale now? Dr. Folta says,
“GMO papayas are the only commercially released fruits. They have a sequence from a papaya virus that is already there, just turned in reverse so it “cancels out” the virus. It saved an industry in 1998 and is still used today.”
GMO Strawberries With Peanuts? Nope
Making a GMO product is a lengthy process that scientists have been working on and have had some success with. There are multiple GMO products, but strawberries are not one of them – no strawberries are modified with peanuts.
So people with peanut allergies can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their strawberries are not part peanut. However, there is a lot of talk about GMO products and whether or not they are safe for human consumption. Scientists like Dr. Folta agree that genetically-modified fruit is perfectly safe – what do you think?