The world of genetically modified (GMO) crops is beginning to experience major changes.
Not necessarily technically, but politically and sociologically.
In the United States, the USDA recently granted approval for sale of a new GMO purple tomato that contains high levels of anthocyanins, which are found in berries and other fruits and, according to some evidence, help to prevent cancer.
“The tomato has been modified to alter its color and improve its nutritional quality,” notes a press release from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). “We have found that the plant is unlikely to pose an increased pest risk compared to other cultivated tomatoes and is not subject to regulation under 7 CFR Part 340. This means that, from a pest risk perspective, this plant is safe to grow and use in animal husbandry in the United States.
The new tomato reflects a shift in GMO production: from selecting plants for pest resistance and other traits attractive to growers to selecting them for consumer appeal, notes an article in Wired.
Norfolk Plant Sciences, a biotechnology research company that developed the plant, plans to introduce a purple cherry tomato to a handful of test markets in 2023. The company is also working on purple tomato juice, sun-dried tomatoes and beefsteak tomatoes. She also hopes to sell seeds to home gardeners.
Europe is also experiencing developments in the world of GMOs. Its drought summer is causing some leaders to rethink the European Union’s (EU) longstanding opposition to GMO crops because of severe yield damage. Current estimates indicate that maize production this year will be 12% below the five-year average for sunflower and 16% below average for maize.
GMOs are well established among major staple crops in the United States, accounting for nearly 90% of corn and soybean yield, while GMO fruits and vegetables, such as the new purple tomato and a genetically modified mushroom approved in 2016 are much less obvious.
In Europe, on the other hand, fruit and vegetables could be the first crops to see the development of GMOs.
“If GM crops are deregulated in the EU, it is likely that the first to hit the market will be fruit and vegetables rather than major staple crops, as many of these already have GMO versions and the manufacturers may not want to create new GM varieties for the European market alone Large agricultural companies have tended to avoid modifying lower value foods such as fruit and vegetables due to the high costs associated with developing new varieties of GMOs, but gene editing is much cheaper.
Opponents of GMOs have portrayed it as interfering with natural evolutionary processes, overlooking possible negative ramifications.
GMO advocates insist it is just an accelerated process of natural plant breeding. They also say that GMO foods are identical to conventionally grown crops in terms of nutritional value and health effects.