In the mid-’90s, amid much fuss, a biotech firm called Calgene introduced the Flav’r Saver tomato. Genetically engineered to last longer on the shelf, the Flav’r Saver didn’t turn out to have much “flav’r” to save.
To make a long story short, consumers generally steered clear of it; farmers had trouble growing it; Calgene burned hundreds of millions developing and marketing it; and eventually ended up tossing it on history’s compost pile. In the end, Monsanto ended up buying Calgene at a fire-sale price.
Not many people ever ate a Flav’r Saver tomato; but the tomato in effect ate a multibillion-dollar biotech firm.
Since that time, the GM seed giants have generally steered clear of fruit and veg, focusing instead on big, ubiquitous commodity crops like corn, soy, and cotton. (Monsanto raised eyebrows a few years ago by buying the world’s biggest fruit-and-veg seed producer, but the company claims it has no imminent plans of genetic tampering.)
That’s why I was so surprised to find this bit, buried in a Forbes article about the GM seed industry’s charming habit of using exploited child labor and lots of pesticides to produce GM seeds in India:
In the neighboring states of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, you find children producing genetically modified seeds for such vegetables as okra, tomatoes, chilies and eggplant, in the service of Syngenta, says Venkateshwarlu. The tomato and chili flowers are even smaller and more delicate than the cotton buds. The pesticides are more frequently applied, Venkateshwarlu says, and the pay is less, 5 to 10 cents an hour, even though the mandated minimum wage is 17 cents. Not so, Syngenta insists. “Our contracts require payment of minimum wage,” says Anne Burt, a spokesperson, adding that Syngenta has a strict policy against child labor. The seeds are sold to U.S. farmers, the tomatoes and eggplant to U.S. consumers.
What? I don’t recall the USDA or FDA approving GM eggplant; or a new tomato since the Flav’r Saver. This source claims “there are currently no GE tomatoes present in US markets either as whole tomatoes or in processed tomato foods.”
I have emails into folks who follow the seed industry to figure out what’s going on.
Leave it to the GM seed industry to combine so many issues in one swoop: child labor, exploitive wages, pesticide abuse, and, evidently, sneaking products onto market without anyone knowing.