Each movement has its mascots and icons that are emblazoned in the minds of the public as being representative of the whole. For cloning animals it had been Dolly the sheep, for transgenic animals it had been the goats who had spider silk producing genes implanted in them to make their milk into spider silk fibers, and for the genetically modified plant movement the Flavr Savr tomato by Monsanto had become the face of what some worried was the future of their gardens.
What the Flavr Savr tomato had hoped to accomplish in the early days would be seen as tame by the ambitions set forth by modified plants today. As the name suggests, the only alteration to the tomato had been to allow the tomato to ripen for longer on the vine, which would have hopefully resulted in a longer shelf life and a better, more full taste. This was accomplished through the deactivating of one of its processes. As the article “Tomatoes” on gmo-compass explained, the process to create the tomato was called the Antisense approach and it occurred by the deactivating of the creation of an enzyme, called polygalacturonase, that was in charge of the fruit softening.
What ended up happening was much different, though. Though the Flavr Savr tomatoes had passed the legislation necessary to be on market back in the day, they had turned out to be a market failure, not recouping the cost of their creation and distribution. In addition to that, modified tomatoes have had a lengthy battle in the European Union, where they had trouble being passed as safe for consumption. The same article on gmo-compass states that tomato puree had been very popular in Great Britain, but that nearly all other states could not decide whether they had wanted to legalize the sale and consumption of the plant, and whether they had deemed it safe, which eventually led to the removal of all pending applications by modified crop producers. There are no modified tomatoes for sale in any markets in the EU now.
This doesn’t mean that the tomato was a total loss. There are plenty of scientists today who are trying to figure out ways to alter the tomatoes to give them more traits like better herbicide and pesticide resistance, or a natural defense against pesticides. With the strides made in the modifying of other fruits and vegetables, there are always more options to apply to tomatoes before they are sent for approval to the market again.
But in a young biotech industry the fact was that what captured the imagination of the public about the possibilities had been a small red tomato called the Flavr Savr. For some it was the opportunity at technology making a better life for people once again, preserving taste and serving as a gateway to a future of even better traits and possibilities for what crops could be for people around the world. The tomato had also served as a scary beacon of the overreach of science, with a new technology that was too young to be fully studied in the biological ramifications it caused to consumers and to a crossing of the natural boundaries where we weren’t meant to tread.
The Flavr Savor became a casualty of a culture war over genetic modification the world over, but for both good and bad it cemented itself as the progenitor of what would become one of the most contested and transformative scientific movements the world had ever seen.
Gmocompass. (2016). Tomatoes. Gmo-compass. Retrieved on May 5, 2016 from http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/grocery_shopping/fruit_vegetables/15.genetically_modified_tomatoes.html