The Monsanto GMO Story: Adding a Fish Gene Into Tomatoes

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Perhaps no GMO story has raised more eyebrows than the fish gene in the tomato story.

Monsanto gets caught adding a fish gene into tomatoes as consumers protest the company’s choices.

Perhaps no GMO story has raised more eyebrows than the fish gene in the tomato story. Who hasn’t been warned of (and repulsed at the thought of) fruit that will stare up at us from our plates? Yet Dan Verakis, spokesman for seed giant Monsanto, calls the story a “myth,” insisting that “fish genes in tomatoes just don’t exist.”

It is these kinds of fish stories, says Verakis, that “fuel the uncertainty” surrounding GMOs. The fact, he says, is that all of Monsanto’s products — on the market and in development-use “naturally occurring genes from other plants or, in the case of the insect-resistant products, a gene from Bt.” Verakis also says that he knows of no other companies currently working to move animal genes into produce.

But Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists says otherwise: “The fact is, it has been done . . . DNAP [DNA Plant Technology of Oakland, California] was the company — that put the fish gene in a tomato.” Rissler acknowledges that the experiment was halted before any products were brought to market, but, she insists, “that is because of the uproar. Believe me, they would be doing it if people were not objecting to it.”

The truth, it seems, lies somewhere in between. According to Scott Thenell, director of regulatory affairs for DNAP, there was an experiment, begun and finished four years ago, that involved an attempt to insert a flounder gene into a tomato to increase the fruit’s frost-tolerance. But the results were so pitiful, the experiment was scrapped in the earliest phases. “The initial experiments showed insufficient technical effect to proceed with further experimentation and development,” says Thenell.

Thenell acknowledges that the fish experiment is often raised by opponents of biotechnology in an attempt to shock consumers. But he assures, “This was a product concept that was dropped four years ago, is not under development, nor is it likely to be under development in the future, since it showed so little promise. It simply was not worth pursuing.”