CRISPR tomatoes now on the shelves

Fruits supposedly improves quality of sleep

5. February 2024

5 February 2024 / The first CRISPR tomatoes are now on the shelves in Japan. The ‘GABA tomato’ was developed with new genetic engineering techniques (NGTs). This is shown by photo just recently taken in a supermarket in the Tokyo region. According to the information on the packages, the tomatoes will lower blood pressure, relieve mental stress and improve sleep quality. Experts are doubting that the consumption of the fruits goes along with such effects. At the same time, according to the Japanese functional food register, the consumption of the tomatoes is not recommended for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and small children. Tomatoes like this could soon be available in supermarkets in Europe as well, without detailed risk assessment and labelling.

According to the proposal made by the EU Parliament’s rapporteur, Jessica Polfjärd (EPP), which is to be put to the vote in Strasbourg next Wednesday, these tomatoes would be treated equivalent to normal cultivated tomatoes. However, there is no doubt the composition of the tomatoes is changed significantly, in particular, the content in gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is said to be four to six, in some fruits even twenty times higher, compared to conventionally bred varieties.

The French authority ANSES as well as experts at the Austrian Environment Agency, point out that only a few genetic changes were necessary to bring about this drastic change in the NGT tomatoes. Nevertheless, they assume it is very unlikely that these tomatoes could be obtained by conventional breeding methods.

There are, in fact, many examples of NGT plants, such as poplars, camelina, rice, wheat and tomatoes, which differ significantly in their characteristics to conventionally-bred varieties. However, should the industry prevail on the basis of rapporteur Polfjärd’s proposal, the risks associated would only be investigated in rare cases. NGT plants would no longer subjected to mandatory risk assessment, taken into account the intended and unintended effects caused by the process of genetic engineering. If this happens, the protection of health and the environment would become a lottery.

There are also worries about the responses that citizens have received from members of the EU Parliament (MEPs) in reply to their letters, as these show that many MEPs have probably not really looked into the planned legislation. In addition, some MEPs, particularly in the Committee on Agriculture, have put forward extreme proposals, according to which even voluntary labelling of NGT plants would be prohibited in future and the plants had to be permitted in organic agriculture. This contradicts the interests of consumers as well as the requirements for transparency.

Christoph Then,, Tel + 49 151 54638040

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