The New York Times had a really interesting piece the other day about genetically modified organisms, which it rightly said had, "since their introduction in the mid-1990s … have remained wildly unpopular with consumers, who see them as dubious tools of Big Ag, with potentially sinister impacts on both people and the environment."
But, the Times writes, that may not be fair. Or accurate.
And so the paper tells the story of Cathie Martin, a plant biologist who "has spent almost two decades studying tomatoes," and has created one of unique properties - "a lustrous, dark purple variety that is unusually high in antioxidants, with twice the amount found in blueberries … When cancer-prone mice were given Martin’s purple tomatoes as part of their diet, they lived 30 percent longer than mice fed the same quantity of ordinary tomatoes; they were also less susceptible to inflammatory bowel disease."
The Times suggests that perhaps the story of GMOs has been over-simplified through the years. For example, "Martin’s tomato wasn’t designed for profit and would be grown in small batches rather than on millions of acres: essentially the opposite of industrial agriculture. The additional genes it contains (from the snapdragon, itself a relative of the tomato plant) act only to boost production of anthocyanin, a nutrient that tomatoes already make. More important, the fruit’s anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties, which seem considerable, are things that many of us actively want."
But it is a complicated story, largely because the priorities of companies like Monsanto in many ways seem at odds with those of people like Martin. You can read the story here
Over the years, whenever I've written about GMOs, the word I've most often used to describe my attitude is "agnostic." I've always believed that there is a role for GMOs - and the purple tomato strikes me as a perfect example of what I've imagined. I also think that GMOs could be enormously useful in feeding a planet that increasingly is seeing its crop supplies threatened by factors related to climate change.
This is a fascinating story … it will please some and irritate others. But I think it is good to get a sense of stories untold, especially when it is about "the future of small-scale, bespoke" GMOs.