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Genetically modified lab-created kale-Brussel sprouts Kalettes embraced by anti-GMO foodies

Veggie-lovers, look out for a new vegetable in grocery stores this fall. Developed by Tozer Seeds, a British vegetable breeding company, the new vegetable is a hybrid: a cross between kale and Brussel sprouts, dubbed Kalettes. It has already taken off in the United Kingdom under the name Flower Sprouts. And it is genetically modified.

Thailan Pham, writing for Self magazine, wants to try these Kalettes as soon as possible:

Superfood kale, packed with nutrients and antioxidants combined with fiber-filled Brussels sprouts means our mind is blown and we want it on our plates, asap.

Kimi Harris, a mommy blogger over at Mother Nature Network, says she’ll “be sure to try it.” She reassures readers that they have nothing to be afraid of hybrid vegetables:

And no, in case you’re wondering, hybrid vegetables are not the same as genetically modified crops. While genetically modified vegetables have been changed or tampered within their DNA, hybrid vegetables are created by simply cross breeding compatible plants.

Why isn’t there any resistance to this vegetable? Kalettes are a hybrid vegetable and clearly a product of genetic modification. But because the new hybrid was developed using traditional breeding methods, it doesn’t face the same resistance that genetically engineered crops do.

This is where the widespread use of the term “genetically modified” fails. The popular term GMOs, for genetically modified organisms, usually refers specifically to transgenic or cisgenic organisms, in which one or a few genes were transferred from another organism, or turned on or off to help the organism express particular desired genetic traits. The term implies that only these organisms and crops have been genetically modified. However, GMOs should really refer to all domesticated crops since agriculture began 10,000 years ago. Humans have completely changed crops through selecting, crossing and breeding, exposing to chemicals or radiation, and manipulating individual genes.


Because of current widespread anti-GMO sentiments, Tozer Seeds has been careful to steer clear and emphasize their use of traditional breeding methods in producing the Kalettes. For example, @Kalettes responds to someone curious about Kalettes on Twitter:

But traditional breeding methods also involve meticulous genetic manipulation of the result in order to produce something they could sell. Heather Hansman reports in Modern Farmer:

It took Tozer almost 15 years until they felt like they had a marketable product. They tweaked the flavor to tone down the Brussels, worked on varieties that had longer growing seasons and bred in strains that they deemed more attractive. Even now, as it’s being sold, they’re still tweaking the details.

Those “details” are being “tweaked” using modern genetic manipulation methods. Meanwhile, a headline from Chip Chick refers to Kalettes as the “Kale and Brussels sprouts love child.” This might give the impression that two related vegetables can mate and come up with a hybrid “love child” ready to be sold in grocery stores. In reality, it takes a lot of laboratory experimenting (and gene-ius) to come up with a completely new, not-found-in-nature vegetable that farmers will grow, stores will sell and consumers will eat.

Ironically, a century ago, people were afraid and opposed to hybrid crops as ‘violatons of nature’ just as many today are wary of genetically engineered organisms. Pamela Ronald, professor of plant pathology at University of California, Davis, notes in Scientific American Classics that our fears of “plant tinkering technologies” have “persisted over time.” She quotes Maxwell T. Masters, president of the International Conference of Hybridization, from a 1899 Scientific American article included in the Classics issue:

Many worthy people objected to the production of hybrids on the ground that it was an impious interference with the laws of Nature.

So now, we have clearly moved past the fear and objection to hybrids, a big win for agriculture and consumers. When will we do the same for genetically engineered organisms?


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26 thoughts on “Genetically modified lab-created kale-Brussel sprouts Kalettes embraced by anti-GMO foodies”

  1. “Love hybrids, GMO or not” – One of the main points of the article was that hybridization IS a form of genetic modification. No offense toward you, but that’s got to be the dumbest thing I’ve read all night.

    • I did my major in plant genetic engineering and plant genetics. Hybridizaiton is the transfer of favorable traits in two parents to a progeny or the F1 hybrid, as they say. Every trait and character in a plant (and for that matter in any living creature) is governed by genes or family of genes. The F1 progeny is then backcrossed to the parents for years to get a stable genetic transfer of genes from the parents to the offspring. But instead of transfering one gene as in GMO, we have little control over the genes being transferred from a wild parent to the Hybrid, since a lot of genes get pulled along with the one we need. Traditinoal breeding is slow, labor intensive, space intensive and very very time consuming. That is why the science of plant genetic engineering developed to reduce the harmfuil effects of unwanted genes, make the process faster and we get GMO. GMO technology is safer and more predictable than traditional breeding. What the article says is absolutely true.

  2. I used to have some wolf hybrids. The individuals, even from the same litter clearly were genetically modified. Both in behavior and appearance. The chef’s comment was clearly an emotional response and not well thought. Or perhaps the “dumbest thing I have read all night”

    • Seriously! I’ve got nothing against genetic engineering but to equate it to plant breeding has got to be really really stupid. The mechanisms involved in both are different. One is patented the other is not? Plant breeding can only go so far in terms of hybridization compared to endless opportunities for genetic engineering.
      So I agree with the Chef.

      • As was pointed out in article the mechanism is more precise and may minimize risk. So, G.E. may be safer than hybridization. So, to equate is not stupid. It is a modest claim.

          • as in this cases sometimes claims are true. Also claim was my term. So your comment is, as usual,somewhat meaningless..

    • Unfortunately for you, and for those who buy into the BS you have posted, you are right. There is a “huge difference”, which in terms of human health risk is much greater from sexual hybridization than from transgenic techniques. The former (sexual hybridization) moves thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of genes simultaneously. The latter (transgenics) moves only one or a few genes. The metabolomics of hybridization involves myriad changes in proteins expressed by those thousands of gene changes. The metabolomics of transgenics produces only one change in protein expression. The toxicity of hybridized crop plants is unknown, and can’t be known until well after the fact, whereas the toxicity of transgenic plants is fully known and predictable. The anti-GMO “movement” (as you put it) is on the wrong side of this issue. The anti-GMO fringe (as I put it) works to the detriment of protecting human health and the integrity of the environment. Wake up and learn.

    • So it’s “confusing the public” when someone points out that hybrids are a version of genetic modification, but it’s not when anti-GMO advocates say “The trouble is that nobody knows how these unnatural new organisms will behave over time” (from your link). The exact same could be said of hybrids. New hybrids with increased resistance to certain insects can have a very similar effect (or lack thereof) as a GM plant engineered to produce Bt toxin. When it comes to GMOs, what matters is what the modification is, not that there is one. To understand GMOs on this level takes a fairly advanced understanding of biochemistry and molecular biology though.

  3. GMO may indeed be faster than traditional breeding, but I think that the verdict is out on it being safer. In order to produce a traditional F1 hybrid, 2 or more parents are mated. Should someone decide to save the seeds, then the F2 generation will revert (the kalettes will do the same if we were to save seed) to the parent type. This means that the individual cannot save seed, making it difficult to steal a plant variety from a company. For the company that produced the hybrid seed, their problem is solved. With transgenic plants, the germ line can be transferred to other plants of the same species fairly easily by either wind or insect pollination (for instance transgenic corn or rape can pollinate other corn or rape). Say, I am a farmer who saves my own seed and grows my own corn from it because it helps to keep me competitive. Now my corn has been contaminated with the transgenic pollen. Now the corporation that “owns” the patent on the transgenic sues me (when in fact it was their fault that their corn pollinated the non-transgenic).

    Thus, the problem is not the genetic modification method, but the manner in which the modification is being enforced. Seriously, when farmers are not permitted to save seeds? When farmers are prosecuted because pollen from transgenic corn wind pollinates their corn or rapeseed (so now they have inadvertently infringed on the patent)? Hybridization could cause similar problems (in that because of the differing parents, one cannot save seed (the F2 generation will not have the F1 generation hybrid attributes, but rather those of the parent types (see, some of the rest of us also understand some genetics)), but farmers would have to go out of their way to steal hybridized seed (and it would be real, intentional, theft). In fact, the only example where one could compare the two, would be if a farmer mistakenly hybridized the exact parents to come up with the same hybrid being marketed by a seed company. Compare that to uncontrolled pollination of a normal crop by a transgenic. It doesn’t compare well.

    In addition, let us suppose that transgenic modification makes a vegetable or grain variety more hardy. Is that necessarily a good thing? Wheat, for instance is even now almost an invasive plant. It can grow in a variety of situations beyond the wheat field. Do we really want a hardier variety which might become invasive? Think about the exotic invasives in your area. Do you really want another, even if it is edible (Kudzu for instance, happens to be edible). In addition to knowing your genetics, it might help to understand some ecology (also a science), especially when you want to claim that transgenic modification is safer than hybridization (and hybridization has caused problems of this sort).

    I agree that the problem has less to do with the plants themselves than with the corporate greed and the social issues that are being produced because of that greed. One major concern is that now a few of these companies own a major portion of the vegetable seed production. I don’t see them adding new open pollinated varieties or heirlooms unless they can patent them in some way. So one concern many people have is whether we will lose old varieties. This is a legitimate concern.

    As courts have been upholding the corporate rights in these cases, this is bad for farmers who don’t want to grow the transgenic varieties, as well as customers who might not want to buy the transgenics. I don’t think that concerns about the social problems that are being spread along with transgenic pollen, are negligible. And finally, whether the genetic modification is interbreeding or transgenic modification, losing plant and animal diversity is not a minor issue.

    • Lot of misunderstanding of the basics of GE crops in your post. First, the issue of safety has been resolved–every major independent science organization of note in the world, bar none, has reviewed the data: there is nothing unique about GM breeding that makes it any less safe than conventional/organic…in fact, as it’s tested, it is safer and usually more sustainable. None of the issues that you raise are unique to GM crops…in fact, they are more likely to occur in non GMO crops. Hybridization using conventional means creates all the same potential issues you raise–and they’ve been found to be effectively zero. Genetic modification does NOT involve inbreeding…that’s a common misunderstanding. Actually GM crops are designed to be more genetically diverse than their competitors, ADDING to genetic diversity. If you’d like more science based information, rather than spreading superficial anti-GMO memes, please contact me directly… if your interest is sincere.

      • I have a Aquaponics prototype project and I would love to know more about the specifics of Hybridization Modified and crossbreeding vegetable stocks within an enclosed watering system/model.

    • EL, am I correct in understanding that your issue with GM crops lies more in the laws surrounding them the with the crops themselves?

      As for safety, have a look at these two recent reviews:

      An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research

      Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review

  4. I’m not eating it!

    Says it right inbthe first paragraph!

    “It has already taken off in the United Kingdom under the name Flower Sprouts. And it is genetically modified.”

  5. Boy oh boy is this tainted with traditional propaganda techniques! This smells of Big Food money. There is a huge difference between mating of similar genitically compatible organisms and organisms that are in no way related, like fish and plants, or monkeys and plants. It doesn’t take a scientist to know there will be unintended consequences, that in fact have been well established. This is pure psychopathic greed.

    • But it does take a scientist to understand that there are not any inherent dangers from genetic modification, as people such as yourself continue to prove time and time again.

  6. articles like this is what gives the internet a bad reputation for disseminating mistruths. If you are interested in the truth, please do more research than just this misleading webpage. Shame on the author of this article for stirring up controversy where there is none.

    • What is your issue with this article? Your point is unclear. Are you against this type of hybridization? This type of genetic modification? All types? Please clarify.

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