OK, the first item in this title seems pretty silly, right? Don’t we all know that bacon is meat and so it doesn’t have gluten in it? So when I see my grocer advertising bacon as “Gluten Free!” what should I think? As a person who used to write headlines for an ad agency, I think, “Look how they cleverly play on people’s fears to get them to buy something.”
But what if you see a sign that says “Non-GMO” on your tomatoes? That’s the sign that was on all the tomato plants at my local nursery. The guy helping me pick out which ones I wanted didn’t think it was funny when I kept saying, “But I want GMO tomatoes. Don’t you have any of those?” Of course he didn’t, but not because his nursery chose not to stock them. He didn’t have any GMO tomatoes to sell me because there ARE NO GMO tomatoes currently available.
The only genetically modified tomato to ever be commercially available was the Flavr-Savr. I imagine that the scientists at Calgene created it because, like us, they didn’t like the flavorless tomatoes available at the grocery store. Those tomatoes are picked while green, then artificially ripened using using ethylene gas which acts as a plant hormone. Picking the fruit while unripe allows for easier handling and extended shelf-life, but they’re pretty tasteless.
To give us a tasty tomato that could withstand modern handling and distribution, the scientists added an antisense gene which interferes with the production of an enzyme in tomatoes that causes the fruit to soften. The result – a vine-ripened tomato with great taste and the shelf-life of the tasteless variety we’re used to.
The Flavr-Savr tomato was the first genetically engineered food ever made commercially available. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it for distribution in 1994. But by 1997, it was off the market. The reason? It didn’t live up to the scientists expectations. It turns out the fruit continued to soften, so though it had a long shelf-life, it still couldn’t stand up to how tomatoes are picked and shipped in the U.S.
Scientists continue to study and modify tomatoes in an effort to understand the ripening process of the tomato and other fruits and vegetables that use an increase in ethylene production to ripen. You may have even heard of the experimental “fish tomato” created by scientists hoping to make a plant that was more resistant to frost. They inserted an anti-freeze gene from the winter flounder that prevents the fish’s blood from freezing. It didn’t help tomatoes at all so they gave it up. Folks have also fiddled with flavor (lemon-basil tomatoes are tasty but have less lycopene so that was a no-go) and with pest-resistance. But not a single one of these tomatoes has ever been commercially available.
Now, what do I think when I see “Non-GMO” associated with tomatoes? You got it: “Look how they cleverly play on people’s fears to get them to buy something.” This tendency for folks to manipulate us using our emotions is also one of the reasons I like science. It lets me look at data and facts so that I make decisions that work best for me, not the person writing the ad copy. I hope that’s one of the things you like about On Pasture.