Genetically-modified purple tomatoes heading for shops

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

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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."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    Can we have bright red aubergines please?

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    While it clearly may have benefits, I am for the most stringent of testing. We dont know everything about bio-chemical mechanisms, all the time we learn new things about the effects of combinations of chemicals, the positive effects of anthocyanin might be activated by other chemicals in the blueberry, but the chemicals in the tomato might neutralize or worst-case lead to harmful long term effects

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    They look horrible.

    I like my food to be the "right" colour (where "right" means "what I'm used to"). It's a known fact that food that is of unusual colour tastes different and that can be off-putting (one study showed that perfectly good steaks died green tasted "different").

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    There are many purple tomato cultivars already; some are so dark they are almost black. All are rich in anthocyanins as well as other antioxidants such as lycopenes. Why produce one using GM technology when those varieties have already been developed using traditional methods?

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    We have tomatoes like these in California called "kumatos". They are a superior tomato. Virtually everything that you purchase in the way of fruits and vegetables has been hybridized. The orange did not occur naturally. It was created by crossing it between a lemon and a mandarine.

    Get over GMO hybridizing. It is the logical evolution of something that has been going on for generations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    Between climate change and increasing population we'll be lucky to maintain an adequate food supply to feed a hungry world. Crop failures happen all the time. How lucky the world has been for the American agricultural industry's incredible advances freely given to foreign countries along with assistance in using them.GM food is necessary and good. Europe's prejudice won't stop it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    This article confuses me. In Greece I ate purple coloured tomatoes The Greek supermarket selling them labelled them 'black' tomatoes. I don 't think they were GM. The shop has been selling them for about 3 years. They have them for about three weeks. They have a stronger taste and don't go off quickly. They are grown in Greece which purports to be anti-GM. Any thought?

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    Not specifically connected to purple tomatoes, but in days gone by, we had famines that kept to some degree the world's population under some kind of control.

    Now GM crops along with our sympathy and compassion is feeding all these useless mouths.
    We'll regret it

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    How many times do we have to say no to this?

    No, we don't need or want GM: no, we don't trust the private corporations' motives: no, we don't want to sell all of our food supply chains to said corporations: no, no NO!

    Got the message? And for the recordUk government, we don't trust you either. Democracy? Look, flying pigs (Monsanto TM)!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    So it's ok for us here in Canada to export product not found naturally (and which is so safe it's banned in the hallowed halls of Westminster) but it's not ok to have a Penguin bar, Marmite on toast and a glass of Lucozade?

    Something is seriously wrong with this picture....

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    LittleOldMe: That is not an entirely true statement is it?

    It is true in USA and Canada in which Judges chose the side of Monsanto in all cases

    Even though it wasn't the farmers' faults, they still had to pay Monsanto

    Then Obama just made law Monsanto, ect is immune from prosecution

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    Feeding the world is NOT an insidious lie (@441); we do actually have to do it - unless someone can find a way to stop population growth. We should use all the methods we can to feed people without ploughing up more land. That means higher-yielding plants, and GM can contribute to that. It's not the only way, but why throw away a useful method for the sake of ideology?

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    I don't so much mind the idea of GM foods as Monsanto's aim to control the whole planet's food production for their own profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    GM food is ultimately about Monsanto wanting to control the world's food supply.

    Why do you think it is lobbying our MPs so hard?

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    I already grow a purplish tomato called Russian Black which has not been genetically modified there are also some Portuguese varieties that are purple . So why bring in these GM monsters , it is only to try to get GM acceptable in the UK. As an organic gardener I don't want GM in the UK it is a racket to make money for the agro-industrialists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 445.

    @440 Wrong, American slavers were regularly stopped by British vessels after we became civilised and banned slavery (of course you needed a civil war to civilise you in this respect).
    Meantime you still abused, robbed, displaced and generally abused Native American Indians.
    But of course you allow them to have Casino's now so that must make it alright.

  • rate this

    Comment number 444.

    I think restaurants (especially fast food) should be made to disclose use of GM products on their menus.

    There is no point getting all up in arms about labels if GM manufacturers can sneak their products into the food chain anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 443.

    our food already contains Es and preservatives. fish contain mercury so why the furore about GM its the way forward and no one noticed we were eating horsemeat it tasted fine . by the way i won the 3-15 at wincanton lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 442.

    At least if they are so obvious in colour, those like me who do not want anything to do with GM adulteration of food can avoid them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 441.

    Feeding the world is the insidious lie used to suggest opponents of GM would let future generations starve.


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