Scientists: GMOs Not Part of Florida Strawberry Success

Vance Whitaker next to a bed of strawberries
UF/IFAS Associate Professor Vance Whitaker says he’s fielding more questions from consumers about genetic engineering.
Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS

Strawberries bred by University of Florida scientists for commercial consumption are not genetically engineered. This is what UF/IFAS researchers, as well as local growers, want the general public to know.

According to Vance Whitaker, a UF/IFAS Associate Professor of Horticultural Sciences and strawberry breeder based at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, there has been an increase in inquiries from consumers about whether new varieties in particular are genetically engineered/modified. “In recent years, I have been frequently contacted by the public with questions about genetic engineering, and Florida strawberry growers have frequently reached out to me to help answer questions they have received from the public as well,” Whitaker states.

To help provide more transparency to the process, Whitaker co-authored a new UF/IFAS Extension document in which he and UF/IFAS Assistant Professor Seonghee Lee describe how UF/IFAS scientists breed commercially grown strawberries for Florida growers and other markets. The document lays out that UF/IFAS strawberry breeding program has been developing strawberry varieties for nearly 70 years, and that the fruit is developed using a conventional breeding process of selecting seedlings, which later become new parents for the next cycle of crossing.

The bottom line: UF/IFAS breeders do not use genetic engineering technologies to improve strawberries.

“As we continue to find more precise and creative ways to breed strawberries, we hope to develop strawberry varieties that perform better for the farmer, taste better for the consumer, and have increased disease resistance, making them healthier overall,” Lee concludes.

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