Originally published September 27 2014
High antioxidant raspberries breed by researchers to be grown without agricultural chemicals
by David Gutierrez, staff writer
(NaturalNews) European researchers have used traditional breeding techniques to develop a new variety of raspberry that is extra high in antioxidants and is grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.
The researchers focused on developing a variety that, in addition to being tasty, nutritious and grown without dangerous chemicals, would also be commercially viable.
Scientists now believe that antioxidants -- which protect the body from potentially damaging free radical compounds that are produced as a side effect of metabolism -- are responsible for many of the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Industrial techniques destroy nutritionYet, Gerard Brugal, coordinator of the European Union-funded QualiRedFruits program that led to the new raspberry variety, notes that current trends in red fruit production have actually been breeding plants with lower and lower antioxidant content. Modern agricultural techniques also use more toxic chemicals than ever before but also produce fruit that tastes worse.
Brugal notes that, in recent decades, breeders have focused on producing fruit with traits that are most beneficial for farmers and supermarkets, such as ease of harvesting, firmness (for shipping), long life, large size and attractive appearance. By focusing on traits that are at best unrelated to flavor or antioxidant content -- or sometimes even directly in conflict with these characteristics -- such breeding has actually reduced the flavor and antioxidant content of fruits.
In addition, fruit producers have increased their use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides such as insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Yet antioxidants are typically produced by plants as defense mechanisms against environmental stress. When fertilizers and pesticides remove all sources of stress from the plant, the plants do not bother to synthesize much in the way of antioxidants.
Indeed, numerous studies have confirmed that organic fruits and vegetables are significantly higher in antioxidants than produce grown using more chemicals. Most recently, an international research team funded by the European Union and the Sheepdrove Trust published a study in the British Journal of Nutrition showing that organic fruits and vegetables were 19 to 69 percent higher in antioxidants than "conventionally grown" produce. The study was the largest meta-analysis ever conducted on the difference between organic and conventional produce and grains, comparing the results of 343 separate peer-reviewed studies.
Flavorful, healthful variety grown without chemicalsIn order to counter the current destructive trends in fruit breeding, the QualiRedFruits researchers analyzed 100 different varieties of wild and domestic raspberry, evaluating them for desirable traits such as high antioxidant content, good flavor, high average yield and natural resistance to fungal disease (the major disease group that affects raspberry production).
"Raspberry is a high-value crop due to its unique flavour, and there is increasing competition between production areas worldwide," Brugal said.
In order to maximize the favorable traits, the researchers used conventional breeding techniques (not genetic engineering) to hybridize 37 of the 100 varieties they studied. The resulting cultivar then had its roots treated with a cocktail of fungi and bacteria in order to boost its natural immunity and was also treated with substances called elicitors, which activate natural processes within the plant. The plants were then grown without the use of pesticides (including fungicides) or synthetic fertilizers.
"We now expect to see new varieties of nice looking, tasty and healthy raspberry moving from research to the market in just a few short years," Brugal said. "They will be certified as free from noxious chemicals and produced according to environmentally friendly agricultural practices."
Brugal expects consumer demand to lead to even more healthy raspberry varieties.
"Today in the EU, about 100 000 [metric tons] of raspberries are sold on the regular market every year... based on only 20 of the 200 raspberry varieties registered in plant collections," he said. "It is likely that half of these varieties will be replaced within the next decade."
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