The genetically modified tomato has not exactly died on the vine. But some are questioning its longevity.
"We are still in limited supply. Demand is high," reports Carolyn Hayward, spokesperson for Cal-gene Fresh in Davis, Calif., the biotechnology company that introduced MacGregor's brand tomato, genetically altered to soften more slowlythan conventional tomatoes.Since the premium tomato crops that include MacGregor's haven't done well in Georgia and Florida this year, the tomatoes aren't widely available.
Calgene introduced Mac-Gregor's brand tomatoes grown from trademark Flavr-Savr seeds in early 1994, touting them as "summertime taste . . . year-round." By isolating the gene that causes softening, copying it, and placing it in the tomato backwards scientists slowed down the softening process, allowing farmers to leave the tomatoes on the vine longer to develop more flavor. The Flavr Savr received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in May 1994.
It also received a lot of press.
For many, the manipulation symbolized a much-larger controversy surrounding the ethics of genetic engineering.
Three major camps emerged: purists who consider the "slow-rot" tomato a dangerous step toward "Frankenstein food"; fence-sitters who support genetic engineering in some cases, and those who view this as scientific progress that will help control food supply, reduce food waste, and offer consumers a better product.
- Kirsten A. Conover