Friday, January 28, 2011

GM Foods: The Tomato Fish

In 1991, the company DNA Plant Technologies genetically engineered a tomato containing a gene from a fish, the arctic flounder. The goal was to create a tomato more resistant to frost and cold storage. Experiments revealed the new gene did not help the tomato, and it never made it to supermarkets. Although it was a failure, these "Tomato Fish" or "Fish Tomatoes" created something of a scare among activists and the public. How can a fish and a tomato be combined, and how can that be healthy/safe?  Some consumers may have had an image like this in their brains:

Fish tomatoes never happened, but many foods in the United States today are genetically modified (GM).  Bt corn, for example, is a large GM crop in the U.S.  A gene from a bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, was inserted in the laboratory 14 years ago to combat a corn eating worm.  The corn became very popular and now makes up approximately 63% of the U.S. corn crop produced.  All this from a NPR report.  Soybeans, alfalfa, and cotton are also large GM crops in the United States.

So, considering corn and soy are key ingredients in corn syrup and vegetable oil, you probably ingested some GM foods today!  These foods have been deemed safe to human health as well as the environment by the USDA.  In fact, just yesterday the USDA lifted all restrictions on the growing of a specific GM alfalfa plant, and more decisions will soon come down for sugar beets and corn.

Now, what is important to understand is this: Not all GM crops are created equal.  Different genetic modifications will yield different results when combining different species' genes, and public concerned is certainly warranted.  Just because these specific alfalfa and corn strains have been deemed safe, it does not mean that crossing a tomato and fish gene, for example, will be safe.  Each new breed of GM crop needs to be tested to the fullest extent.  This does not only include concern for human health, but also the health of any organisms that will naturally be in contact with the crop in the wild. 

My next post will be on the advantages and disadvantages of GM crops!


  1. Great post, gorgeous design. You're doing excellent work. Keep it up!

  2. I agree that all GM crops should be fully tested before allowed to be used (especially consumed), but it seems to me that it is a common misconception among the public that genetic engineering is "bad", with no good reason behind it. I look forward to your next post hopefully clearing some of the misconceptions and stating the truth.

  3. My concern is less health of the consumer (though it's hard to track allergies when you don't know what the food is actually made of), and more for agriculture, the economy, and the environment. No one variety should be 63% of any population--that is a very bad agricultural practice and has potentially, maybe inevitably, bad effects. Having seeds, and the solutions to the problems they cause, in the hands of a few companies is bad economics (something we can't expect NPR to explore. Thet're generally a good news source, but ADM is one of their biggest funders, and it shows in their utter lack of journalistic curiosity about one of the biggest trends in our science and economy.) And driving down biodiversity is bad environmental stewardship.

  4. Think transmutagenic spontaneous gene contamination in both plants and animals. Claims of confirmed thoroughly tested safety are plainly false.