Genetically-modified purple tomatoes heading for shops

Purple tomatoes The new tomatoes could improve the nutritional value of everyday foods

Related Stories

The prospect of genetically modified purple tomatoes reaching the shelves has come a step closer.

Their dark pigment is intended to give tomatoes the same potential health benefits as fruit such as blueberries.

Developed in Britain, large-scale production is now under way in Canada with the first 1,200 litres of purple tomato juice ready for shipping.

The pigment, known as anthocyanin, is an antioxidant which studies on animals show could help fight cancer.

Scientists say the new tomatoes could improve the nutritional value of everything from ketchup to pizza topping.

The tomatoes were developed at the John Innes Centre in Norwich where Prof Cathie Martin hopes the first delivery of large quantities of juice will allow researchers to investigate its potential.

"With these purple tomatoes you can get the same compounds that are present in blueberries and cranberries that give them their health benefits - but you can apply them to foods that people actually eat in significant amounts and are reasonably affordable," she said.

Start Quote

I hope this will serve as a vanguard product where people can have access to something that is GM but has benefits for them”

End Quote Prof Cathie Martin John Innes Centre in Norwich

The tomatoes are part of a new generation of GM plants designed to appeal to consumers - the first types were aimed specifically at farmers as new tools in agriculture.

The purple pigment is the result of the transfer of a gene from a snapdragon plant - the modification triggers a process within the tomato plant allowing the anthocyanin to develop.

Although the invention is British, Prof Martin says European Union restrictions on GM encouraged her to look abroad to develop the technology.

Canadian regulations are seen as more supportive of GM and that led to a deal with an Ontario company, New Energy Farms, which is now producing enough purple tomatoes in a 465 square metre (5,000sq ft) greenhouse to make 2,000 litres (440 gallons) of juice.

According to Prof Martin, the Canadian system is "very enlightened".

"They look at the trait not the technology and that should be a way we start changing our thinking - asking if what you're doing is safe and beneficial, not 'Is it GM and therefore we're going to reject it completely'.

"It is frustrating that we've had to go to Canada to do a lot of the growing and the processing and I hope this will serve as a vanguard product where people can have access to something that is GM but has benefits for them."

The first 1,200 litres are due to be shipped to Norwich shortly - and because all the seeds will have been removed, there is no genetic material to risk any contamination.

Camelina plants Scientists at Rothamsted hope to produce a GM plant that provides "fish oil"

The aim is to use the juice in research to conduct a wide range of tests including examining whether the anthocyanin has positive effects on humans. Earlier studies show benefits as an anti-inflammatory and in slowing cancers in mice.

A key question is whether a GM product that may have health benefits will influence public opinion.

A major survey across the European Union in 2010 found opponents outnumbered supporters by roughly three to one. The last approval for a GM food crop in the EU came in 1998.

Prof Martin hopes that the purple tomato juice will have a good chance of being approved for sale to consumers in North America in as little as two years' time.

She and other plant researchers in the UK hope that GM will come to be seen in a more positive light.

Legacy of distrust

Earlier on Friday, scientists at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire announced that they were seeking permission for field trials for a GM plant that could produce a "fish oil".

In a parallel project, they have been cultivating a type of GM wheat that is designed to release a pheromone that deters aphids.

Professor Nick Pidgeon, an environmental psychologist at Cardiff University, has run opinion polls and focus groups on GM and other technologies.

He says that a legacy of distrust, including from the time of mad cow disease, will cause lasting concern.

"Highlighting benefits will make a difference but it's only one part of the story which is quite complex.

"People will still be concerned that this is a technology that potentially interferes with natural systems - they'll be concerned about big corporations having control over the technology and, at the end of the day, you feed it to yourself and your children and that will be a particular concern for families across the UK."

"To change that quite negative view that people had 10-15 years ago will take quite a long time - it'll take a demonstration of safety, a demonstration of good regulation and of the ability to manage the technology in a safe way. And that doesn't happen overnight."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    The point with GM food is that we don't know what effects it might have.

    On one side it could be benificial, will it save the millions starving in Africa? No. Big corps will patent the DNA code and make a killing.

    On the other side, GM crops could be harmful, effect our natural crops and wipe them out completely, then we will be in the brown stuff.

    More research needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    Hmmm, Canadian grown and processed eh? And yet their Food Inspection Agency has banned the import of Marmite, Ovaltine, Lucozade and a few other well-known British products, see

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    They already sell these at shops here in the States. I'm afraid to try them, but I know it's really just a psychological thing (kind of like when Heinz started selling green ketchup a few years back). I doubt taste would be compromised, they just don't look very appetizing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    How do they TASTE? Not a word in the article.

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    Hobo, Science is only as good as the stage it reaches, modern science is an evolving thing we are still told by Good scientists that Time travel is still theoretically possible so maybe you will find a Teapot in orbit.
    Even Einstein has been right/wrong by his own words/right again.
    The thing with all change is you hedge your bets, a least wait for the 2.1 version of something before buying it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    @344. But that is my point. If GM turns out to be useless – then it will not be used. Plenty, of ‘scientific advances’ end up in the scrapyard for that very reason. But the ons that do not we would not wish to do without. @349 Patents have a finite life time of 21 years; they enable a return on research investment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    "I trust they will be labelled GM and thus avoidable should one wish to do so."

    I don't think trust is a word to associate with the food business. It'll find it's way in - it might start off labelled but it'll become diluted or corrupted. Rather like "organic" or "free-range" - these no longer mean what they used to. Like our politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    327 beckystewart - Interesting source. That site also claims:
    Obama is African.
    Vaccines cause autism.
    9/11 was an inside job.
    Chemtrails exist.
    Fukushima killed 14,000 Americans.
    Microwave ovens are deadly.

    Much like climate change deniers, there is a distinct lack of evidence from those against GM food. Don't you think there'd be at least a shred of evidence if any of the claims were true?

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    If these for-profit entities want to market their designer foods, then they should be able to... provided they are prominently labeled in bold lettering as such. There will always be a sizable population myself included) that will refuse to subject ourselves to the possible side-effects. Try as humans might, there is nothing that surpasses the authentic gifts Nature provides.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    Blueberries, Black Plumbs. Aubergines. Blackberries. Black Currants. Sloes. Damsons.
    Talk to your greengrocer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    1/3 of food was thrown away last year due to waste, whilst more and more of the worlds rapidly expanding population goes hungry. GM is now comprehensively understood by scientist but the stigma of the 1980s remains, it's time to educate the public - without GM we will die out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    "@324 my father is a farmer, I'm a scientist"

    You as a scientist would agree that science should be value free, but it obviously isn't.
    Much of 'Science' today is used/perverted by those with power to better control populations and so get more control.
    One SUBJECTIVE GM goal is to PATENT the gene sequence and remove natural, free crops.
    This is control, and is immoral, 'wrong' science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    GM technology can be used as biological warfare, can we stop rogue GM scientists from producing a poisonous version of a tomato and contaminating our farms with its seeds ? This technology could be used to kill millions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    340. paul

    Looks like Monsanto and friend's have there PR on full tilt today. Another scum corporate scam selling poison to the masses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    Hold on one cotton picking minute, (excuse the pun) but didn't Canada just taje Irn-Bru and Marmite off the sgelves because there fortified with vitamins and minerals? But its ok to eat fruit and veg that you've injected with foreign genetic code?????

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    A UKIP tomato! Ye gods, there is truly no hope.

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    @336 David

    "almost none of us would wish to do without them"

    Trying to divert the argument from one of telling falsehoods and fabrications of the truth to one of "Anti Science" is another ploy.

    If the "Scientists" involved in GM displayed some level of professionalism - ie they told the truth - then maybe GM would have a place.

    GM doesn't even produce competitive crops yet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.


  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    They combine different varieties of potatoes or apples etc., to make new varieties, I don't believe there is much difference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    Meddle with nature at your peril.


Page 17 of 34


More Science & Environment stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.