Purple Tomatoes Have Arrived

The Purple Tomato
The Purple Tomato, a genetically modified crop created by Norfolk Plant Sciences, is available to home gardeners to start from seed. | Image by Raven Villar/Boise State Public Radio

After two decades of hacking genes, Norfolk Plant Sciences has produced a new striking, plum-colored tomato.

Seeds of the aptly named Purple Tomato are the first genetically modified (GM) food crop available to the public. While some small farmers were granted early access to the heirloom last year, the seeds only officially hit the market on February 3.

Norfolk hopes that by selling directly to gardeners, the perception of GM foods can be improved. According to a 2020 Pew Research study, 51% of American adults still consider GM foods worse for their health than non-GM foods.

In 2022, The Dallas Express reported on Mexico’s concerns over imported U.S.-grown genetically modified corn. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador vowed to eventually cease all GM corn imports into the country.

“Between health and commercialism, we opted for health,” Obrador told reporters at the time.

Nathan Pumplin, CEO of Norfolk Healthy Produce, a subsidiary of Norfolk Plant Sciences, said biotechnology can bring “a lot of benefits” to consumers, like “better taste, better nutrition as prime examples,” he told NPR.

The lead scientist behind the Purple Tomato, Cathie Martin, says the goal was to produce a tomato high in anthocyanins. These compounds have been shown to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects.

These are also the same compounds that give blueberries and blackberries their rich color.

Martin published a study in Nature in 2008 that found that mice who consumed a diet supplemented with purple tomatoes lived 30% longer than those who had none.

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