Genetically modified strains of broccoli have been launched in UK supermarkets as a testing ground before they are inevitably introduced into the United States, Canada and Australia.
The new broccoli, brought to market under the name Beneforte, was developed by a team of British scientists and brought to market by agriculture giant Seminis. The broccoli, which is the culmination of years of research and development by scientists at the UK's Institute of Food Research and the John Innes Centre, claims to contain up to three times the standard level of glucoraphanin than other broccoli types.
Professor Richard Mithen, who led the research at the UK's Institute of Food Research said that his teams research has provided new insights into the role of how genetically modified broccoli and other similar vegetables promote health. The claim is repeated over and over by those touting GMO technology insisting that foods under such research can lead to the development of potentially more nutritious varieties of our familiar vegetables.
His team began research into the health benefits of broccoli in the early 1990's, and worked to develop understanding of what it is about broccoli that makes it a particularly healthy food. He said that the identification of a type of wild broccoli that contained very high levels of glucoraphanin in Sicily led the researchers to develop a breeding programme for the production of a hybrid.
"Now there will also be something brand new for consumers to eat as a result of the discoveries we have made," said Mithen.
Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC chief executive said the launch of Beneforte was a "great example of how our ever-improving understanding of biological processes in both plants and humans can lead, over time, to commercial innovation."
Critics claim that modifications to any organism, whether plant or animal interferes with the DNA sequencing causing untold damage to long-term health and the environment. Moreover, GMO technology inevitably leads to licensing and patents on living organims corrupting nature itself into manmade greed and profit.
Mithen explained that broccoli is the only commonly eaten vegetable that contains meaningful quantities of glucoraphanin -- a naturally occurring compound that is converted into the bioactive compound sulforaphane by the gut.
He explained that a large body of scientific evidence indicates that sulforaphane is likely to have beneficial effects such as reducing chronic inflammation implicated in cardiovascular disease, and halting uncontrolled cell division that is associated with early stages of cancer.
Some previous studies have backed such an idea, finding that people who consume a few portions of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli every week have a lower risk of chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease.
The researchers used conventional breeding techniques to develop a new genetically modified broccoli from the Italian wild broccoli variety with higher levels of glucoraphanin and commercial broccoli.
After years of developing the new hybrids in the lab, Mithen explained that the intelectual property for the strain was licenced to agriculture giant Seminis for commercialisation, however he added that the IP for the technology was still owned by Plant Biosciences Limited -- the technology transfer company for the UK Institute for Food Research -- and not Seminis.
Beneforte will only be available at the UK supermarket Marks and Spencer until early in the summer of 2012, however Mithen said that after this date he expects a wider roll out of the product, possibly to Canada, the United States and Australia.
Beneforte does not currently make any health claims on packs of broccoli, but said that there is "substantial unpublished data relating to heart health benefits." No evidence has yet been presented.
He said that they plan to submit a health claims dossier to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for claim substantiation on Beneforte's cardiovascular and heart health benefits upon completion the next set of human studies.
He added that whilst the research programme into the cancer benefits of the broccoli will continue, the complex nature of cancer risks means it is highly unlikely that they will submit health claims dossiers for the suggested benefits.