LET’S BE GMO CLEAR! There is no GMO tomato on the US market today!

I repeat. There is no GMO tomato on the US market today. To write so, as many misinformed bloggers and writers do, only confuses and misleads readers and consumers, while seed companies like Monsanto, Dow, and J.R. Simplot, to name a few, elate in such misunderstanding. Let me explain.

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The only FDA approved GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms, formally called GE’s or Genetically Engineered seeds) available in the United States market today are: SOY, CORN, CANOLA, COTTON, ALFALFA, HI PAPAYA, GREEN & YELLOW ZUCCHINI (very small amounts), and SUGAR BEETS (the white kind to make “sugar”). POTATOES and APPLES were recently approved. Potatoes are being grown in small quantities under the brand Ranger Russet, Russet Burbank, and Atlantic. Golden, Granny, and Fuji Apples under the Canadian ARCTIC® brand seem to be harder to track down in a US marketplace that was expecting them in 2017 as well. And no, the tomato (or wheat) is not on this list.

GMO/GE seeds are modified at the DNA level in bio-tech laboratories. This is different than plant breeding, or hybridization, that has occurred in the wild of nature since time, by the hands of small organic and conventional farmers, and even by large seed companies (Yes, in a lab, or in the field). But they are not genetically modified in the way we talk, think, and politicize GMO’s today.

I like to explain it like this: Imagine a field of corn. Some are strong and healthy and some are weak. Or some are sweet and some just “meh.” If we marry (and consummate) the weak and the strong, over time we will have resilient or sweeter results. This is hybridization. It has the capacity to naturally occur in nature- and that is the key. Technically these are genetically modified; not unlike you or me that have been bred with blue, brown, or green eyes. There is a huge difference between plant breeding or hybridization and what we now all think of when we hear GMO. A comment by “Sonofwill” in response to this Huffing Post article claiming tomatoes are GMO’s  cited Scientific America article on heirloom tomatoes, for which this article looked researched, said: “Technology-based methods for genetic modification have absolutely nothing in common with farming hybridization methods. The latter just tweaks dominant/recessive gene expression which is already present. Heirlooms, or any other kind of naturally-produced, are by no means ‘freaks of nature’. To think so is to fundamentally misunderstand the way these things work.” I have to agree. To not have a grasp on this can mislead, even if unintended, and it’s just the way Monsanto likes it.

But the tomato has a past. The first true freak of nature, or Genetically Modified Organism, brought to market was, in fact, a tomato under the name, Flavr Savr. It was created in 1987, brought to the stores in 1994 and rejected in the marketplace very soon thereafter in the late 90’s. In short, The DNA from a fish was inserted into the DNA of tomato in order to keep the tomato riper longer. While this would never occur in nature, it did pave the way for what we now know as GMO’s. The Flavr Savr no longer exists in the marketplace.

Are you confused yet? We all are! You see, bio-tech seed companies got hip and decided to take a marketing page from the pundit playbook. Similar to the way “global warming” is now called “climate change,” these seeds that were being engineered at the DNA level were always referred to as Genetically Engineered (GE). That is, after all, what they are. Then, bio-tech seed companies began spinning them as GMO’s, which then resulted in them being lumped into all things genetically modified- which in fact hybrids are. But again, just not in the way we think of so now. So while hybridized plants, and yes, even heirloom tomatoes seeds are technically modified, they are done so at a genetic level that has the potential to naturally occur in nature- just like you and me.

Alison Caldwell is a writer, speaker, educator, and sustainable food expert, with an M.A. in Food Systems and Culture. M.A.


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