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Scientists Develop Genetically Modified Tomato That Kills Caterpillars in One Day

By On December 13, 2016

One of the most difficult challenges the non-GMO and organic movement faces is dispelling myths about the current nature of Monsanto and other companies’ technologies.

While it is well known that crops like corn and soy are among the most prevalent genetically engineered crops (90% or more of these and other crops such as cotton are GMO in the United States despite the fact that these crops are banned in more than 30 countries worldwide), few know the current situation with GMO tomatoes.

The so-called “FlavrSavr” GMO tomato was the first such crop ever to be introduced, but it was scrapped due to consumer rejection and health concerns. Despite that, several Internet memes circulated on social media as well as articles continue to imply that tomatoes are genetically engineered.

It has become clear over the years that consumers are not exactly clamoring for GE tomatoes (and are instead more concerned with restoring the flavor and health of natural tomatoes, but that’s a whole different story).

That being said, a new GMO tomato has just been developed and it utilizes a controversial technology that Monsanto and other companies have already been using on corn and other crops. 

New Bt Tomatoes Coming Soon?

According to a new article from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a team of Indian scientists has created a new GE tomato designed to combat one of the most damaging pests in tomato production.

The pest in question is the tomato fruit borer, which is highly active in India. The scientists have developed a new Bt tomato designed to express ‘Cry2A proteins’ which offer “built-in resistance” against the tomato fruit borer.

The new transgenic plants reportedly exhibited “extensive resistance” to the pest in a laboratory setting, the article said. In total, a 95 percent mortality rate was observed in fruit borers over a 24-hour period when testing the new genetically engineered tomato.

The report said that conventional methods to combat the pest have been ineffective, leading to the new GE variety’s development. A summary of the tests can be read by clicking here.

New “Killer Tomato” Raises Questions

While most GMOs in the U.S. are designed to withstand sprayings of herbicides, crops that produce the Bt insecticide have also been used.

In India, Bt cotton has been especially popular — and controversial to say the least. The GE cotton crops have been widely adopted, but it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing, critics say. Last year, 2/3 of the state of Punjab’s mostly GMO cotton crop was wiped out by a whitefly infestation, several farmer suicides have been linked to GMO crop failures (although Monsanto disputes this), and thousands of cotton farmers along with the Indian government have begun switching to and backing non-GMO cotton this year.

Critics say that GMO crops, including the Bt varieties of corn and cotton, carry with them unintended risks that usually don’t manifest themselves until a few growing seasons down the line, as has been the case with Bt cotton. They also say that a lack of long-term safety testing is a serious problem, while Monsanto says they are safe. But consumers worry about the fact that the Bt pesticide cannot be washed off or blown off in the wind as is the case when it is used on non-GMO crops. 

Will the new Bt tomatoes eventually follow that same path of initial success and serious issues down the road? That remains to be seen, but for now, the industry continues to push them even as consumers and increasing amounts of farmers continue to distance themselves.

You can find out more information by reading the new article here.