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Purple GM tomatoes to hit shops

Genetically modified purple tomatoes are being produced in Canada, and could soon be hitting UK stores. The tomatoes have a distinctive purple colour, due to the introduction of a gene from the snapdragon plant. By adding the snapdragon gene, a process is triggered that causes anthocyanin to develop. This is an anti-oxidant that could help to fight cancer and scientists suggest that by adding these purple tomatoes to household foodstuffs such as tomato sauce and juices, the health benefits could be far reaching.

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The GM purple tomatoes were first developed in the UK, but the lead professor behind the team at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, who developed the tomatoes, Dr Carrie Martin said that current European Union restrictions on GM produce made her look to other countries to start production. Regulations in Canada are far more supportive of GM foods and a deal was struck with an Ontario company, New Energy Farms. Prof Martin spoke of the fact that Canadian systems are “very enlightened”.

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She said: “They look at the trait not the technology and that should be a way we start changing our thinking – asking if what you’re doing is safe and beneficial, not ‘Is it GM and therefore we’re going to reject it completely’.” And although she would have preferred production to take place in the UK, she is optimistic that once GM products gain more acceptance they can be grown in the UK. “It is frustrating that we’ve had to go to Canada to do a lot of the growing and the processing and I hope this will serve as a vanguard product where people can have access to something that is GM but has benefits for them.”

This company is now growing the tomatoes on a massive scale. In fact, 1,200 litres of purple tomato juice have already been manufactured and are ready for shipping. The tomatoes contain the same compounds that are present in blueberries and cranberries, but as tomatoes are a more commonly consumed food, it is hoped that people will eat them in more significant amounts, as they are also a cheaper alternative to these fruits.

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The juice of these GM tomatoes will be used in a range of tests to explore whether anthocyanin has a beneficial effect on humans. Recent tests have already shown that this compound can slow cancers in mice and has anti-inflammatory effects. The results of the health benefits of the GM juice will be an important factor in the public deciding whether to accept it or not. However, typically it has be shown that public opinion is still against the use of GM foods, with participants taking part in a European Union in 2010 found opponents outnumbered supporters by roughly three to one.

Despite this, Prof Martin is still hopeful that approval for the purple tomato juice in North America could take as little as two years’ time. And she is positive about people in the UK accepting the GM product in the near future.

Source: BBC Health News

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