Worldwide resistance to GM foods continues to build as ample evidence has shown negative health effects, crop contamination, and species degeneration that suggests we should tread lightly while attempting to alter the design of nature. Likewise, consumers are making it known that if GM food does enter the food chain that it must be clearly labeled.
The GMO industry has suffered negative press, but scientists and proponents of GMO appear undeterred. They have been steadily building a case for the benefits of GM food that go beyond simply what they can defend against, and aim to convince consumers of outright health benefits and even disease prevention.
Tomatoes were the very first target of genetic modification and came to the market in 1994. But after just four years they disappeared when it was discovered that the removal of the enzyme that leads to ripening was not the flavor enhancer (Flavr Savr) it was intended to be. Worse, after the FDA approval for human consumption, evidence was presented that showed an increase in stomach lesions as well as the possibility that altered genetic sequencing could lead to new forms of virulent viruses.
Despite a monumental failure from the beginning, genetically modified tomatoes once again have taken center stage. This time it is not merely the promise of better flavor, or more durability in transport between farm and shelf; now GM tomatoes can apparently be “fortified” to reduce the risk of cancer and protect against other diseases.
These claims have been building since at least 2008, when British scientists bred a purple “super tomato” that modified the concentration of antioxidants the same as those found in blackberries and cranberries.
Now scientists have gone a step beyond and have isolated the natural antioxidant Lycopene within the tomato itself and have genetically modified it to be three and half times more plentiful. This discovery led professor Avtar Handa of Purdue University’s horticulture department to say: ‘This is one of the first examples of increasing the nutritional value of food through biotechnology. In fact, it may be the first example of using biotechnology to increase the nutritional value of a fruit.’ This discovery built upon a similar one by Spanish scientists which doubled the amount of Lycopene and led to the creation of the Moruno tomato, which was then successfully introduced to the UK marketplace.
Now that the precedent has been set, Marks & Spencer just announced that it will be selling tomatoes that are genetically fortified with the mineral selenium, because UK scientists have determined that it is lacking in the UK diet. Marks & Spencer equates this “benefit” to their customers’ health as no different than vitamin-D enriched milk, or other products that address deficiencies.
Will the appeal to consumer health be the silver bullet that finally legitimizes GMO? Can we actually trust these genetic engineers to now care for our health? Or could this be no more than a backdoor to soften the GM market as a whole?