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The world population is increasing at an alarming rate prompting the need to ensure and sustain food security for the people. To realize this, scientist came-up with technology called biotechnology which altered the genetic components of foods to increase yields (Shah 1). Most of the foods we consume today contain genetically modified ingredients and we sometimes take without notice. Nowadays, many crops have been genetically modified to increase taste and quality, reduce maturation time, increase yields, and improve resistant to diseases and pests (Ornl.gov 1). Some of the genetically modified crops include tomatoes, maize, soya beans, rice, cotton, peas and many more.
MacGregor tomato was initially referred to as the"FlavrSavr" tomato which was the first genetically modified food to be sold in the United States (Robbins 305). In 1992, a subsidiary of Monsanto by then called Calgene Corporation worked on the tomato where the gene that makes the enzymes for ripening was isolated and then found a means of altering the gene to prevent the gene from constituting the enzyme. By doing so, Calgene corporation intention was to produce a tomato that had increased shelf life whereby after harvesting the tomato, it would not continue ripening but remain firm. This quality allows for ample time for transportation and mechanical harvesting with minimal bruising. The FlavrSavr tomato was released in 1995 with a great fanfare and the same company planned to bring to the product to the market as a high-end gourmet product (Robbins 305). The people who created this kind of tomato were optimistic that they would work-out well although this was not the case. The result of this genetically modified tomato was that it reduced in the yields and its disease resistance dropped. Moreover, these tomatoes were so soft and easily bruised which made them look unattractive as fresh produce. Initially, Calgene used to label the tomatoes indicating that they were genetically modified in hope that would increase the demand of the tomatoes and enable them to go at higher prices than the natural ones. However, things didn't go as planned by the Calgene Corporation where the consumers responded cautiously to the labels. This was a major blow to the entire genetic engineering industry where they were taught a lesson that they would never forget. From that incidence, the industry desisted from labeling the tomatoes or any other genetically engineered food.
The industry has been fighting a battle with its political allies regarding the labeling of the genetically engineered foods where they require the foods to be labeled with a view of competition. When the Calgene informed consumers that the FlavrSavr was genetically engineered, it was banned from the market. Calgene pondered another option where they decided to market the same product but changed the name to MacGregor brand name which sounded a bit friendly. The new naming of the tomato was meant to hide the reality that the tomato had an altered genome. Calgene Corporation wanted to use the value of non-disclosure for their benefit. It is worth to mention that genetically engineered foods are referred to by different names which all mean the same thing. Sometimes they are known as genetically modified, genetically altered, transgenic or biotech foods referring to the same thing. Nevertheless, the terms carry different emotional message which may affect the embrace of the product in the market. Most of the corporations dealing with genetically engineered foods like to use the term "biotech". These corporations have spent millions of dollars on marketing campaigns with the goal of making the Americans adapt to the term "biotechnology" instead of any other emotionally charged labels like genetically modified organisms or GMOs.
MacGregor tomato also did not do well even though the consumers were not aware that it was genetically altered. The altered gene turned out to have more other sides than it was meant to be. The genetically engineered tomato looked like the natural one but questions arose about its nutritional value. Other investigations revealed that pathogenic bacteria of the people who ate this tomato become resistant to antibiotics (Robbins 306). Consequently, the MacGregor tomato was removed from the market in 1996 which was barely one year after its introduction. The need to create a genetically modified tomato was initiated by the some factors like the commercial production of tomatoes is not meant for the local consumption only but also for long distance shipping to far places. Therefore, there was need to produce a variety of tomatoes that can sustain bruises and can have long shelf lives. This is because the fresh natural tomatoes have soft skins and can easily rot in the course of transportation (Panse 1). For the tomatoes that are not genetically modified, they are harvested while still green to ensure they are not damaged during transportation and enhance longer shelf life. This has a draw back in that their taste and flavor was compromised and therefore there was need to come up with a variety that tolerated these things. Calgene Corporation aim was to produce a vine-ripened variety of tomato that had long shelf live and tasty as well. It took Calgene to come up with MacGregor Tomato (Panse 1).
Calgene followed a certain procedure to create this kind of a tomato. They used antisense gene and inserted it into a tomato that consequently interfered with the production of the enzyme called polygalacturonase which slowed the rotting process. However, this process did not address the issue of the softening of the skin as it ripened and therefore the tomato was susceptible to bursting during transportation and handling. To prevent this bursting, the tomato was harvested the way the green non-modified tomatoes were harvested. During this tomato creation process, the Calgene Corporation was faced by a number of challenges. The MacGregor tomato was not very tasty compared to the non-modified tomatoes. They also made market management mistakes that led to losses and lastly they faced stiff competition from Monsanto. The production of the MacGregor tomato by the Calgene Corporation ceased and it was taken over by the Monsanto.
Zeneca with the support of the Campell Soups were becoming interested in the creating genetically modified tomatoes. This took place at the same the Calgene Corporation was still in operation. These two companies came to a consensus that Calgene would be involved in making market-fresh type of tomatoes whereas Zeneca would engage in making tomatoes that were needed in food processing. Zeneca's tomatoes grown in California were approved by the FDA by the year 1996. Their tomatoes found market in UK where they were marketed by Safeway and Sainbury. In fact the genetically modified tomatoes were sold at lower prices than their non-modified counterparts. The concerns about the risks of the genetically modified food led to the situation where the MacGregor tomatoes were wiped from the market because consumers were not ready to appreciate this new upcoming technology.
With the increasing population, there is need to stabilize food supply in the countries for its citizens. The debate about the dangers and the advantages of the genetically modified foods still rages on. Supporters of the technology claiming that it will enable feed the world and enhance better health while its detractors expressing their doubt about this (Panse 1). However, nowadays most of the crops we consume are genetically modified even without our notice. This technology is being appreciated in most parts of the world with minimal resistance. This seems to be the way to go as far as achieving sustainable food yields is concerned.
- Shah, A. Genetically Engineered Food. Retrieved from http://www.globalissues.org/issue/188/genetically-engineered-food.2010.ornl.gov
- Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms. Retrieved from http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/gmfood.shtml 2008.
- Robbins, J. The food revolution: how your diet can help save your life and our world. Red Wheel, 2001
- Panse, S. History of the Genetically Engineered Tomato. Retrieved from http://www.brighthub.com/science/genetics/articles/27236.aspx. 2009
- Panse, S. The Advantages and Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Food. Retrieved from http://www.brighthub.com/science/genetics/articles/23358.aspx. 2009