That New GMO Tomato, and other GMO vegetables

Blueberries, naturally high in anthocyanins.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

In February this year I learned about a new genetically modified tomato, the Purple Tomato, that is to be marketed directly to gardeners and farmers. Up until now, genetically modified vegetables have been few and those seeds were not available to the public, only to large commercial growers. I know from looking at the stats on my website that GMO foods are a big concern for my readers, and I decided to do more research. See my earlier post Which Vegetables are Genetically Modified?

Concord grapes ripening. Photo Kati Falger

This very purple cherry tomato is the color of Concord grapes, with insides the color of Victoria plums. The creators of this odd fruit worked for 20 years to get this color, which they transferred from snapdragons. Snapdragon flowers are edible, in case you wondered. They have a bitter flavor, like chicory. But it’s the color genes the breeders transferred, not the flavor genes. This fruit was made by Norfolk Plant Sciences. The color genes indicate high levels of anthocyanin, the pigment in other purple foods. Anthocyanins provide anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. Anthocyanins can be found in other purple and blue foods such as blueberries, eggplants, blackberries, red cabbage, purple sweet potatoes and purple broccoli. The Purple GMO Tomato contains similar levels of anthocyanins to other purple foods.

Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds. Another high anthocyanin food

Norfolk is hoping to change diners’ and gardeners’ perceptions of GMO foods by selling something we will consider healthy as well as exciting. Only 7% of Americans think that GMO foods are more healthy than non-GMO foods, with most believing they are less healthy.

Cathy Martin, the creator of the Purple Tomato reports that research published in Nature found that mice who ate a diet supplemented with purple tomatoes lived 30% longer than those who didn’t. Anyone who wants longer-lived mice knows what to do!

Pink Boar tomato.
Photo Pam Dawling

Modern domesticated tomatoes have anthocyanins only in the non-edible foliage. It is entirely possible to breed tomatoes the conventional way, with anthocyanins in the fruit as well as the leaves and stems. Jim Myers at Oregon State University bred the Indigo Rose tomato, which is available to gardeners. The variety has been improved since its early days. We grew it when it was new and were disappointed with its flavor and the fact that the purple stage was under-ripe. Fully ripe fruits were a dark brownish-red shade. Indigo Cherry Drops is a more recent variety from the same breeders, and there are now over 50 Indigo cultivars.

Those who want more anthocyanins in their food can choose Indigo tomatoes and plenty of other blue and purple vegetables and fruits. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there is no health risk to eating GM foods currently on the market. Each person can make their own decisions.

Purple Galaxy is another GMO tomato variety, despite earlier claims to the contrary.


Non-GMO Project symbol

The Non-GMO Project has more info about                                                                the purple GMO tomato.                                                                       

Other GMO Food Crops

You can read about other GMO food crops in this List of Bioengineered Foods from USDA

Apple (ArcticTM varieties) (pdf) are being grown in Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and Fuji varieties. Only those trademarked ArcticTM are bioengineered. Regular Fuji, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious are not GMO.

China and the US are growing GMO papaya, a disease resistant variety that resists Papaya Ringspot Virus. Chinese papayas are not imported to the US, but all US-grown papaya (mostly grown in Hawaii) can be assumed to be GMOs.

GMO eggplants are grown in Bangladesh, but not imported fresh into the US. I don’t know about pickles.

Pink-fleshed pineapples grown in Costa Rica, are sold by Del Monte in the US. Yellow-fleshed pineapple can be assumed to not be GMO.

Many commercial potato varieties sold in the USA and Canada are GMOs. Trademarks include New LeafTM, and various versions of InnateR.

GMO Yellow crookneck squash comprise about 10% of that sold commercially in the US.

All sugar beet grown in the US and Canada can be assumed to be genetically modified. The FDA has approved two varieties of GMO Sugarcane to be used for food and feed. In 2013, about 55% of US sugar was from sugar beets, and 45% from sugarcane.

But until the Purple Tomato, no GMO vegetable seeds were available for the public.

If you want to avoid GMO vegetables

Grow your own – you’ll know exactly what went into them. Just avoid buying the GMO Purple Tomato seeds.

Buy from a trusted grower.

Buy from a certified Organic, Real Organic, Non-GMO, or Certified Naturally Grown farmer. Organic certification prohibits GMOs. CNG closely follows the Organic standards, using a peer-inspection system.

USDA Organic symbol
Real Organic Project logo
Certified Naturally Grown logo