No fish gene in GMO tomato

By From page A6 | October 27, 2011

I helped bring the Flavr SavrTM tomato, the world’s first genetically engineered whole food, to market and I can assure Jan Woods and anyone else who’s interested that it did not contain any fish genes.

This misconception originated in an article by Molly O’Neill of the New York Times News Service who, in the version of her article published on May 19, 1994, in West Coast newspapers like The Davis Enterprise, reported that the Flavr Savr tomato contained a “flounder gene … spliced into its chromosomes.”

This mistake apparently was caught by editors at The New York Times itself because the erroneous phrase had been deleted from the version of O’Neill’s article that appeared in that paper the same day.

But despite its lack of a flounder gene, the Flavr Savr tomato still serves as a good “poster child” for a campaign to require that foods containing genetically engineered additives be labeled, because Flavr Savr tomatoes were. Flavr Savr tomatoes were branded with stickers proclaiming they had been “grown from genetically modified seeds.” They also were accompanied by point-of-purchase brochures that succinctly explained how they had been genetically engineered, gave an 800 number so people could call to learn more, and even conveyed how much of the bacterial protein engineered into them was present in the edible fruit.

They sold like hot cakes. (Initially, anyway.) They flew off the shelves so fast at Davis’ State Market that Burt Gee took to rationing them, only two Flavr Savr tomatoes per customer per day. And because he’d received requests to ship the genetically engineered tomatoes to Alaska and the East Coast, Gee also sold gift boxes of Flavr Savr tomatoes over the holidays.

Like Jan Woods, I also want “transparency when it comes to the food I feed my family.” So if foreign proteins have been added to our food, by genetic engineering or other means, I think those additives should be listed on food labels.

Because of the Flavr Savr tomato, we initially had a choice when it came to genetically engineered food. We should have that choice again and for all foods that contain genetically engineered additives. In fact, we should expect nothing less in a capitalist society like ours that prides itself on an “open, competitive marketplace, with free exchange and without coercion,” a la Adam Smith.

Belinda Martineau

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