Yes, we do have tomatoes – but not GM ones – says riled bio-blogger


Dr Alison Campbell, writing on BioBlog, has been alerted to – and challenged – an article purporting to tell consumers how to distinguish between GM and “regular” tomatoes.

An article headed “We’re Eating A Poison! Here’s How To Identify GMO Tomatoes In Two Simple Steps!” was  published at babiesdaily in 2016. This year variations of the article have been reproduced HERE and – the version at Foodatory drawn to Dr Campbell’s attention – HERE.

Dr Campbell, Associate Dean (Teaching & Learning)and Senior Lecturer (Biological Sciences) at Waikato University, thunders the claim is wrong, wrong, wrong.

There aren’t any genetically-engineered tomatoes on the market, she points out.

There used to be one, the “Flavr Savr”, which came out with much fanfare in 1994. It had been modified to enhance its shelf life, but apparently was not a commercial success and was withdrawn in 1997. To date, nothing has replaced it, although there’s apparently quite a bit of research still going on into e.g. delayed ripening and resistance to pests and environmental stressors.

Dr Campbell then notes that the tomatoes we grow (or buy) and eat are themselves the result of centuries of modification by conventional selective breeding – and also techniques such as mutagenesis, which are not exactly “natural”.

Nor are they subject to the same controls and rigorous testing required of any GM organism or product, even though mutagenesis creates much larger genetic changes than today’s precise techniques for genetic engineering (think CRISPR she suggests).

And yet conventional breeding methods can also cause problems: they led to the withdrawal of some potato varieties in the US & Sweden, because the spuds thus produced contained dangerously high levels of the poisonous compound alpha-solanine.

Then there’s the misleading image (above).

They’d obviously like us to think that one – perhaps the lushly rich red one to the left? – is natural/organic, and the other, a GMOA. Especially when they ask, “can you tell the difference between a regular tomato and a genetically modified one?” But, as we know, all commercially-available tomatoes are produced by conventional means. Still, I guess they feel that an image speaks a thousand words. (I wouldn’t want that rich red one in my sandwich though – it looks like a quick route to sogginess.)

Dr Campbell then turns to the supposed “mounting evidence that links [GE foods] to toxic and allergic reactions, sick, sterile and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals”.

There are no links or citations to support such as sweeping statement.

But on the livestock front, there are now 22 years’ worth of data available on stock fed mostly on GMO foods.

Back in 2014 Steven NovellaB wrote about a very extensive review study that looked at the first 19 years of information.

The animals covered by the various studies reviewed in the paper Novella discussed number in the billions (that is not a typo). It did not identify any problems of the sort listed in the OP that I’m discussing here. (The split between industry-funded and independent research projects into GMOs is roughly 50:50.)

On allergies – apparently the great majority of food-related allergic reactions in the US are caused by antigens from 8 foods: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, shellfish, and fish. only GM soybeans are commercially available. There are a number of fairly stringent tests required of those applying to market foods with a GE component, and in New Zealand the results of these tests have to be reviewed by Food Safety Australia NZ.

Dr Campbell spells out the objectives of these tests:

The goal of the safety assessment is not to establish the absolute safety of the GM food but rather to consider whether the GM food is comparable to the conventional counterpart food, i.e., that the GM food has all the benefits and risks normally associated with the conventional food.

So far no food derived from GMOs has been found to cause new allergies.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a revised version of the originally posted story, correcting Dr Campbell’s name and incorporating the link to the article at Foodatory, published on February 2, which is the version drawn to her attention.



Cornell breeder develops tomato variety that deters thrips and their viruses

A tomato that packs a powerful one-two punch to deter thrips and counter the viruses they transmit has been developed by a Cornell University breeder, Martha Mutschler-Chu.

The work is reported by ScienceDaily here.

After successfully transferring resistance to thrips into new tomato lines and breeding out undesirable traits, Mutschler-Chu’s team added a second layer of protection: one or both of two natural genes known to resist the so-called TOSPO viruses, which include tomato spotted wilt virus.

If some thrips get through with the virus, the virus resistance will mop it up, she said.

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