Genetically Modified Strawberries

We are hearing more and more from the media about genetically modified food. The most recent story I heard is about salmon. Genetically modified crops such as corn have been around for a while. Large seed companies are modifying the genetics of various plants and justifying it in many ways. One so called justification is to say that yields will be increased.

Corn for example has been modified in several ways. One way is by modifying the genetics of the corn plant so that it produces a bacterial pesticide in every cell. This pesticide is known as Bacillus thuringensis. It kills a number of different types of worms. Another modification allows corn to be sprayed with a herbicide called Roundup. The corn is known as Roundup Ready. This herbicide is broad spectrum non selective herbicide the essentially kills most any green plant. It doesn’t just kill the foliage. It translocates throughout the plant and kills it roots and all.

So how does all of this relate to strawberries? In fact, I hadn’t thought about it too much. I sell seeds and plants that to my knowledge have not been genetically modified. Most are selections that have been grown for centuries without breeders getting involved, except perhaps home gardeners or European commercial growers looking for certain specific characteristics that improve various aspects of that cultivar.

Within the last 6 months I have become aware of behind the scenes work going on with hybrid strawberries to modify the genetics. In fact, it appears that this has been going on since the 1990’s. Do a quick search on Google for “genetic modification strawberries”. Some very interesting articles pop up. I won’t go into detail, but work is being done to introdroduce fish genes into strawberries to provide them with frost protection … the type of frost protection that the arctic fish have. Another modification involves making strawberries Roundup Ready. A widely used commercial fumigant has been doomed for quite some time. Those who are working on making strawberries herbicide tolerant are justifying it by saying that the loss of the fumigant will increase labor costs needed to remove weeds from the commercial plantings – which will also drive up the price of strawberries in the store.

Other than the obvious worry about adding yet another herbicide to the long list of pesticides that are applied to commercial strawberries, why would I spend any time mentioning all of this? The Google search also turned up several articles about what is being called genetic drift. It seems that wild strawberries that are growing in the vicinity of genetically modified strawberries pick up these characteristics fairly quickly. There is a very real possibility that the wild populations will be decimated by this genetic manipulation. The genetic manipulation can also render current species infertile. The movement of genetic alterations to wild populations has been proven in the case of sunflowers.

It doesn’t seem like many are concerned with what’s going on. Even the government isn’t protecting wild species and requiring extensive testing before releasing the genetically modified plants. Look what happened at the research level when killer bees escaped. It’s too late once the release has been done. You can’t take it back. You can only deal with the consequences. And, the consequences could be devastating. It could mean the loss of the wild species that we know.

Think about it. Do what you can. Talk to politicians and others that can influence those “in charge”. I think it’s time that we stand up and say something about what’s going on. I for one intend to start. I’m not sure yet where I’ll start, but something must be done to prevent a potential disaster to wild populations of strawberries.