The tomato has been a symbol for genetically modified food for many years. In 1994, genetically modified tomatoes hit the market in the US as the first commercially available genetically modified crop. GM tomatoes have since disappeared.
This transgenic tomato (FlavrSavr) had a “deactivated” gene (Antisense approach). This meant that the tomato plant was no longer able to produce polygalacturonase, an enzyme involved in fruit softening. The premise was that tomatoes could be left to ripen on the vine and still have a long shelf life, thus allowing them to develop their full flavor. Normally, tomatoes are picked well before they are ripe and are then ripened artificially.
Tomatoes were the first genetically modified foods to come on the market. Today, they are no longer cultivated.
Puree made from GM tomatoes was once a success in Great Britain. The EU Member States, however, could not agree on approval.
These GM tomatoes, however, did not meet their expectations. Although they were approved in the US and several other countries, tomatoes with delayed ripening have disappeared from the market after peaking in 1998. At this point, no genetically modified tomatoes are being grown commercially in North America or in Europe.
Genetically modified tomatoes are not approved in Europe. Applications that were submitted several years ago have since been withdrawn.
Tomato puree made from GM tomatoes was a big success in the mid 90s in Great Britain. The fact that the tomatoes were of GM origin was clearly stated on the label. Later, an application was submitted for approval according to EU laws on genetic engineering. Although EU committees of scientific experts assessed the tomato puree as harmless, Member States could not come to an agreement. The application was withdrawn in 2002.
Scientists are still working with genetic tools to give tomatoes new traits like resistance to insect pests and fungal and viral pathogens. Other projects aim to enrich tomatoes with substances offering health benefits. All of these products, however, are still many steps away from receiving authorization.
Today in the EU, all tomatoes found on the market, whether they’re fresh or canned, are not genetically modified. Even the tomato that stayed red and firm after three weeks in the fridge isn’t a GMO.
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