Friday, January 6, 2017

You Say Tomato...

I went to to find a definition for “superstition.”  It told me that it is a “belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge, in or of the ominous significance of a particular thing” or “any blindly accepted belief or notion.”

So when I saw a Forbes article scolding Hunts for a marketing campaign stating: “No matter how far afield you look, you won’t find a single genetically modified tomato among our vines,” it is pretty clear that the company is trying to use superstition to sell its products.

First, an exact definition of genetically modified organism (GMO) is hard to pin down.  Recently when people see the term they tend to think of genetic engineering in a laboratory, sometimes introducing the genes of another species to enhance the characteristics of an organism.  This, however, is not the only definition.  Technically speaking, any tinkering with the genes of a plant, whether artificial or natural, can be considered genetic engineering (GE).  And tomatoes are well known for the crossbreeding done to improve them.  These are usually referred to as hybrid tomatoes, like the ones usually sold as small starter plants at your local nursery every spring – the Better Boys and Early Girls.

Consider this description of a hybrid from a national seed catalog.  The tomato is advertised as having a broad disease resistance package with “high resistance to alternaria stem canker, fusarium wilt races 1, 2, gray leaf spot, nematodes, tobacco mosaic virus, and verticillium wilt.  This just didn’t happen.  Plant scientist worked tirelessly to bring together all these beneficial characteristics while maintaining the size, shape, color, taste and juiciness of the original tomato.

Second, technically speaking, all tomatoes are hybrids. This article explains. “Even the most cherished, oldest, and knobbiest heirloom tomato is a hybrid of the original South American fruit. Tomatoes are one of those plants that people love so much; we’ve been tinkering with its genetics basically since the plant was first cultivated in Peru and Central America before the fifteenth century.  That’s right.  Anyone can look up pictures on the Internet of the original fruits and vegetables taken from the wild by our ancient ancestors.  Not only are they uglier, but also far less tasty and nutritious.  Over the eons, better and better plants were developed either by preserving accidental mutations or by intentional crossbreeding.

Furthermore, attempts to apply the latest laboratory GE techniques have not produced anything better, and there are no GMO tomatoes being grown commercially anywhere in North America or Europe.  So what Hunt is saying is also true of every one of their competitors.

Finally, as I pointed out last time, “GM crops are just as safe to eat as their conventional counterparts.”  This is supported by other authoritative sources (referred to here).

In the Hunt article, they called it a marketing blunder, just because it was so easily refuted, but that’s the way advertising is.  Hunt got caught trying to use fear mongering based on modern superstition about the dangers of GMO.  If they could have gotten away with it, there’s no telling how much profit they would have made by duping a gullible public.  (Look at all the products that never contained gluten in the first place but are newly labeled gluten-free to take advantage of another fad. 

Even major garden seed catalogs proudly advertise that none of their seeds are GMO, just to play to the uninformed audience.  And many of their customers are serious gardeners who should know better but just go along with the popular myth, never taking a little time to educate themselves.

Unfortunately, that’s where we seem to be heading; advertisers playing to and promoting the latest superstitions to make a buck.  Will we stand for it?  Only critical thinking keeps us from being manipulated by these unscrupulous methods.

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