What is the FLAVR SAVR Tomato?
Why it fails on conquering the market?
Even though genetic
engineering promises better and more plentiful products, genetically engineered
foods may encounter a few obstacles to widespread public acceptance. Some
consumers, along with a few advocacy groups, have voiced concern about the
safety and environmental impact of these new food products. Some urge an
outright ban on any genetically engineered foods. Others support mandatory
labeling that discloses the use of genetic engineering. Still others advocate
more stringent testing of these products before marketing.
Thus whether genetically
engineered foods succeed or fail depends on public acceptance. Early reports on
the Flavr Savr tomato, the first recombinant DNA-derived whole food product to
reach grocery shelves, were favorable. Calgene said sales in the product's
first two markets--California and Illinois--were "a total success."
Calgene chairman Roger Salquist said consumers responded "with purchases
In contrast, some
consumer groups have criticized the Calgene product, demanding greater FDA
scrutiny of genetically engineered foods or an outright ban on all of them.
Their reasons range from safety fears to ethics. One group, the Environmental
Defense Fund, said, "Consumption of some of these novel foods might
present new hazards. [Some genetically engineered] compounds are new food
ingredients and clearly should be evaluated for their safety."
FDA scientists and
others in the field blame some negative consumer reaction on the recombinant
DNA technique's complexity. The technology is difficult to understand, so there
is a fear of the unknown. Genetic engineering "simply sounds scary",
says Maryanski. "People call FDA and say, 'We don't want anyone tinkering
with our food.' Then we remind them that there's hardly a food in the grocery
store that hasn't been extensively tinkered with."
He illustrates this by
comparing today's foods with those in the last century. "Take corn. Those
nice, juicy ears of corn we have--they didn't exist. Some kinds of corn had a
hard outer shell on the kernel that you couldn't eat until it was made into
flour. And the kiwi was developed from a hard little berry. We only have our
present-day kiwi--and our corn and wheat and hundreds of other foods--because
of extensive plant breeding."
The story of the rise
and fall of the first genetically engineered crop accepted for the FDA has a
lot of actors that influenced its final fate. On one side are the scientists
that believe in the biotechnology and support the new developments and a whole
world of possibilities, not only in agricultural products but also in
pharmaceutical, health and environmental too. In the other side are the
frighten people that don’t understand the technology used for producing their
food and do not find the support or accompaniment necessary for given a very
big step in their life style.
new products with impacts on society, from medicines to food products with
better nutritional quality. The largest commercial success of genetic engineering
was the production of human insulin in transgenic bacteria in 1980. Since then,
many other products have been released.
to reach the market was the tomato variety Flavr Savr, developed by the Calgene
Company, located in Davis, California. This product, introduced to the market
on May 21, 1994, was developed with the introduction of two novel genes in a
tomato plant. The first gene was a reverse copy of the poligalactonurase gene,
which codes for an enzyme that breaks down cellulose. The introduction of this
gene in the reverse form, also called antisense, resulted in low production of
the poligalactonurase enzyme. Consequently, ripe tomato fruits do not lose
their firmness because the cell wall of these fruits, which is made of
cellulose, does not degrade as rapidly as it does in normal tomatoes. The
second gene transferred in the development of Flavr Savr codes for resistance
to the antibiotic kanamycin. This gene works as a reporter or marker to
facilitate the identification of transformed individuals.
engineered whole product went on the market in May 1994 when FDA determined
that a new tomato that can be shipped vine-ripened without rotting rapidly is
as safe as other commercial tomatoes. The Flavr Savr is the first ready-to-eat
food product available to the U.S. public that used recombinant DNA processes.
Its maker, Calgene, Inc., created the Flavr Savr on the premise that many
consumers are not satisfied with most store-bought tomatoes, especially in the
off-season. Surveys show that though 85 percent of U.S. households buy fresh
tomatoes, some 80 percent are displeased with the quality of grocery store
climates to grow, so most off-season store tomatoes must travel a long way
after they are picked. To survive their journey intact, tomatoes are picked
while they are still green, which is a good way to avoid bruising, but which
results in a tomato that is often described as having the consistency and
mouth-feel of a tennis ball.
Though Calgene vine-ripens its tomatoes, the company solved the rotting problem
by inserting a reversed copy--an "antisense" gene of the gene that
encodes the enzyme that results in tomato spoilage. This suppresses the enzyme
that results in rotting, allowing the tomato to stay ripe, but not rot, up to
10 days--plenty of time for shipping and sale. Refrigeration is not necessary.
approval of the Flavr Savr tomato, Calgene sought FDA's review anyway. The
company also asked FDA to approve as a new food additive the protein that
produces kanamycin resistance. This marker protein allows breeders to identify
early in the gene-transfer process which plant cells have successfully
incorporated the new trait. Inserting the marker confers resistance to the
antibiotic kanamycin. This is a valuable tool when trying to figure out which
cells have the new gene and which do not. But it also adds very small amounts
of a new protein to diets of millions of Americans and raises concerns about
issues such as antibiotic resistance.
evaluated," says Jim Maryanski, Ph.D., FDA's food biotechnology
coordinator. "And we found the kanr gene encoded marker protein would not
affect the clinical effectiveness of kanamycin in people taking the drug
of the kanr gene encoded marker protein in new plant varieties. Though not
required, Calgene provided point-of-sale information that describes the tomato
as a genetically engineered product. Reactions to the Flavr Savr have been largely
positive, though some consumer groups have decried the product, giving it names
like "Frankentomato." Others, including some restaurant chefs, issued
public criticism of all recombinant DNA-derived foods.
Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, called the new
tomato "a significant step forward for consumers in terms of the quality
of the food they eat."
Fruit & Vegetable Association, said the genetically engineered food
products now in development "will offer consumers more choices for
improved quality, nutrition, and environmental benefits."
themselves whether these new products and processes make sense. As for safety,
FDA officials emphasize that these foods will be just as safe as products
consumers are used to finding on their store shelves
Savr tomato was the lost of sight of the objective from the Calgene company
management; they chose their product based on technical and regulatory
convenience, not on developing and marketing a superior product. They didn’t
include tomato breeders and production experts in their decision making and
Aluízio, Santos Fabrício R., Bowen David E.
Understanding Biotechnology. ED.
Prentice Hall, 2003.
Rachel. Biotech--the basics. Rachel's Environment and Health News #719,
March 1, 2001.
John, Publication No. (FDA) 98-2295