April 19, 1999
Volume 77, Number 16
CENEAR 77 16 p. 27
ISSN 0009-2347


What happened to the Flavr Savr?

The Flavr Savr tomato was developed by Calgene, a small Davis, Calif.-based ag biotech company started in the 1980s. In 1994, its slow-ripening tomato was the first genetically engineered food to get marketing approval from the Food & Drug Administration.

The technology was clever--reverse the gene that produces polygalacturonase, an enzyme that degrades pectin and softens fruit. This not only allows the tomato to ripen longer on the vine to develop flavor, but also to be transported to market before rotting.

Extended shelf life and improved flavor sounded like a good idea, but the company did not have access to the top commercial tomato varieties. Therefore, they sold the Flavr Savr in limited quantities in other varieties at a premium price. Meanwhile, between 1995 and 1997, Calgene was being bought up incrementally by Monsanto.

In 1997, Flavr Savr production was stopped and Monsanto scientists began moving the genetic ripening trait into premium tomato varieties. The company says that, because tomatoes are hybrids, this is a slow process and the earliest a premium variety Flavr Savr tomato could be on the market again is in two to three years.

Meanwhile, Zeneca has engineered increased pectin tomatoes that are processed into puree sold through major U.K. supermarket chains. "We actually launched a genetically modified food product three years ago in collaboration with the retail sector," explains Nigel Poole, manager for external regulatory affairs at Zeneca Plant Science. "Nobody in our industry had ever worked in the food industry before," and the collaboration was a test of doing so. "It's been a runaway success," he adds.


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