New strawberry making people sick? (April Fools)

Pineberries via The Guardian.

The UK supermarket Waitrose announced that they are selling a brand new variety of strawberry, a pale white berry with red seeds dubbed the “Pineberry” so named because it tastes and smells like pineapple.
The berries appear in the Daily Mail article Pineberries and cream? The new summer fruit which looks like a white strawberry… but tastes like a pineapple. Due to the timing of the press coverage at the end of March, people all over the blogosphere and editors on Wikipedia have been suspecting that this is an April Fools prank. The Guardian seems to think it is real, however, as you can see in their article Altered Strawberry has Bitter Beginning.
The Guardian is reporting a host of problems with these berries, including allergic reactions. Allergic reactions from traditionally bred fruits isn’t unheard of, but it is still surprising that a variety of strawberries, a fruit that has been consumed by humans for millennia, would cause any problems. Kiwi fruit, a common fruit source of allergic reactions, has only been a part of the human diet since the 1960s, and was released without testing – as seems to be the case with these berries. The berries are said to be a hybrid of Fragaria chiloensis from South America and Fragaria virginiana from North America.
According to the Guardian,

some [people] have been calling for a recall until more detailed research can be conducted on the pale fruit. “They’re playing God” said one uninterested customer. Crossing wild plants with cultivated varieties can have unpredictable consequences and introduce foreign proteins that have no history of being consumed safely.

This attitude is surprising, as fear of unintended consequences is normally reserved for crops that are produced with genetic engineering.
Note: This post was the Biofortified Blog’s 2010 April Fools joke.

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Written by Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is a Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Riverside and works on Citrus genetics.

17 comments

  1. LOL, half of the things that were said in the “allergic reaction” article really do make me think that this was a prank. I have to hand it to Waitrose- this was far more epic than their stunt last year, when they tried to claim that they were going to sell pinanas- “pineapple bananas”.

  2. I’ve heard of white strawberries and yellow strawberries, but not red & white ones. A little digging finds different pics (pdf!) of the fruit, so I guess that particular part of this one is either real or elaborate. I’m surprised I haven’t heard of it sooner, I love new takes on old fruit colors (like the Pink Lemonade blueberry, Rotkottig Frau Ostergotland pear, Anne raspberry, Snowbank blackberry, Hinabelle kiwi, Moro orange, Niedzwetzkyana apple, all the different colored watermelons, ect.) and flavors, like the Strazzberry, a strawberry that supposedly tastes like raspberry, and Muscat de Venus apple, which supposedly tastes like grape. I’ll add this strawberry on to the list of cool plants I’ll have to grow someday, because one look at that and I want it.

  3. Perhaps they’re starting to understand the equivalence between breeding and GE, and are just coming to the opposite conclusion you might expect – as GE is fundamentally wrong, and as the same risks apply with breeding, therefore breeding is wrong.

  4. I always have some fun with the allergy issue in the bloggy-GMO battles. I have been allergic to peanuts since childhood. I tell people I’m going to demand that peanuts be removed from cultivation because of this. (Of course I don’t believe that–I would eat them if I could. I actually love the smell of peanut butter cups! And I think that Plumpy’nut project is awesome.)
    But then I lead them into a discussion of food allergies, and non-GE plants. Or take them down the road of the engineered peanut lacking the allergen. Depends on the conversation. But usually I get them all twisted up in their rhetoric. Good times….

  5. That is the downside of April Fools day. There are always at least a couple of real stories that seem too ridiculous to be believed, and probably a couple of fake ones that aren’t quite ridiculous enough to be disbelieved. Those strawberry pictures are really cool though, fake or otherwise.
    Strawberry trivia: while you’re right people have been eating some species of strawberries for thousands of years, the garden straweberry we now eat arose from an interspecific hybrid ~270 years ago which could have created all sorts of new risks.

  6. Thanks for the clarification, James. It is certainly true that the particular strawberry creation we eat today is not the same as what was eaten in antiquity. Heck, I try to point out that when an obscure variety has some useful gene being bred into modern varieties, that we don’t really know the full long-term consequences of it.
    The genetic diversity within crop species is typically greater than the diversity within the human species – at each cross a breeder is creating a combination that has probably never, and may never again exist. Should every new combination be tested for its long-term consequences? Ewan, you may not be too far off in describing situations like this. There are people who believe that any human modification is wrong. Mention the genetics of wheat and it might as well be a ‘suicide’ pill.
    For this adverse reaction report to be a prank on the part of Waitrose, they would have to have involved quite a few people. Still, the article history of the Guardian article is rather interesting, for those curious.
    My hope, Mary, is that you can have your peanuts and eat them too! That will be a great achievement when it somes to fruition, err, nutition?

  7. I don’t know, Karl. It’s probably the only thing that keeps me from eating too many Reese’s peanut butter cups 😉
    In fact, I actually buy them at Halloween to give out because it assures I won’t eat them before the kids show up (or if there are leftovers).

  8. I have tried my first one today, supplied by a green grocer in Perthshire. It is being produced in Holland and did have a mild pineapple flavour with a slightly acidic strawberry backnote. Not anything spectacular in my opinion and I will wait with patience for my own frais de bois.

  9. White strawberries are 100% genuine, and as far as I can tell, so is the Pineberry, though I’m pretty sure the Guardian article is tongue in cheek.
    I ate a few this morning, actually! Some very odd flavors in there.

  10. 1. Strawberry is allergenic. Interestingly, “there are some observations among breeders that allergic individuals can eat a white strawberry variety without problems”.
    2. You wrote: “Allergic reactions from traditionally bred fruits isn’t unheard of”. Indeed. In fact many food plants, including rice and wheat, are a source of health problems, fortunately only for a limited number of us. And (classical) plant breeding can increase the problem. A well known example is a celery that contained eight times more psoralen than usual. For more, and a interesting piece on plant breeding and allergies, see here .
    3. Ewan Ross is right, but his “perhaps” is wrong! In Europe, the anti-GMO movement is also targeting what they call “clandestine” or “hidden” GMOs, particularly herbicide resistant maize and sunflower produced by mutagenesis. They are assisted in this, in some way, by the European Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms which defines a GMO as “an organism, with the exception of human beings, in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination” whereby “the techniques listed in Annex I A, part 2, are not considered to result in genetic modification”, those techniques being “(1) mutagenesis, (2) cell fusion (including protoplast fusion) of plant cells of organisms which can exchange genetic material through traditional breeding methods”.
    4. The day when ordinary crossing followed by selection will be challenged is coming. Somebody (you? Biodiv?) flagged “10 foods for the future”. Food No. 1 is: “Ancient grains: We’re talking kamut, spelt, amaranth, teff and other grains that haven’t been altered by plant science for commercial purposes like bigger yields and pest resistance. Proponents say ancient grains are more flavourful and richer in nutrients.”

  11. Hmm, by the definition in 3. everything is a GMO, because really, there is no difference between a mutation caused by accidental mutagenisis, and one caused by applied mutagenesis – so following the letter of the law there you can’t release anything into the environment as all mutations are, by definition, caused by mutagenesis – and all phenotypic variation is due to mutations… etc etc ad infinitum.
    I get more embarassed to be European every day, perhaps I should forgo dual citizenship for any future offspring and get on the fast-track to US citizenship.

  12. Alternately, you could say that nothing is a GMO by that definition – because interspecies genetic recombination also occurs naturally. There are people who are wary of any genetic changes, which is a side-effect of the GMO issue. GMOs = scary, scientists say GMO is like breeding and other ways of changing genetics, therefore, other genetic modifications = scary.
    Ewan, here’s an antidote to your EU embarrassment. Just think about the United States’ rate of acceptance of evolution and you should be cured of your geographical anxiety. Or at least the pro-US aspect of it.
    So far, no one has noticed something REALLY OBVIOUS about this white strawberry story. Anyone care to venture a guess before I tell all? 🙂

  13. I grew up in spitting distance of the UK school highlighted by Dawkins for teaching the controversy, so I will remain embarassed (it’s essentially the base state for a British citizen anyway, so nothing much to worry about)

  14. This website seems like a the biotech industry reps and health nuts arguing about allergies when neither side has bothered to learn how and why they arise in the first place.
    Go find something else to worry about, like sterility inducing fire-retardant chemicals in the food chain.

  15. Greg, not sure it would make overly much sense for discussion on a website specifically about discussion of genetic engineering to look at ‘other things’ to worry about. These are important conversations to have, particularly in light of the lack of public understanding around GMOs and their potential to cause allergies as compared to conventionally bred crops.
    At the end of the day if you don’t think it’s something to be concerned about there is a whole internet of other things you can go worry about (like whether or not ceiling cat will ever truly forgive correct useage of the English language) or you could of course actually add to the conversation and edumacate us on how and why allergies arise in the first place (it seems a pretty ridiculous claim in the first place that nobody involved in the discussion has bothered to learn how, or why, allergies arise in the first place – I’m sure we’d be enthralled by your knowledge though)

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