Monsanto introduces non- GMO fruits and vegetables

Lori L. Stalteri, Flickr Creative Commons

WASHINGTON, January 27, 2014—In an apparent reaction to negative public opinion of GMO foods, Monsanto has turned to producing fruits and vegetables through the same conventional cross breeding used by farmers for millennia. However, Monsanto’s new lines of better-tasting and more nutritious products are anything but conventional.

As consumers increasingly shy away from genetically modified products, corporations like McDonald’s and Heinz Ketchup reject GMO ingredients and others like Whole Foods plan to label products containing GMOs, Monsanto is attempting to adapt by introducing new vegetable and fruit crops that are not genetically modified but have been cross bred to do remarkable things.

“Changing the agricultural game is what Monsanto does,” writes Ben Paynter in Wired. “The company whose name is synonymous with Big Ag has revolutionized the way we grow food—for better or worse.” And it appears that Monsanto is looking to revolutionize the agricultural game again.

By using equipment, knowledge and techniques previously aimed at producing GMO crops like the Flavr Savr tomato and the widely rejected GMO potato, Monsanto scientists have been able to cross-breed fruits and vegetables, in much the same way  farmers have done since almost the birth of agriculture.

However, with vast resources, sophisticated equipment, computer models and genetic marking, Monsanto has been able to speed up and focus the cross breeding process in a way farmers never could. The result is fruits and vegetables that taste better, last longer, and have more desirable qualities than conventional produce.

Marketed under Monsanto subsidiary Seminis, produce like Frescada lettuce, BellaFina peppers, Bene­forté broccoli, Melorange melons and EverMild onions may already be in the produce section of your local supermarket. Monsanto also has a watermelon in the works.

Frescada lettuce, already popular in Holland, stays fresh as long as iceberg, and is more sweet and crunchy than romaine lettuce. BellaFina peppers are smaller—one-third the size of regular peppers—to reduce waste. Bene-forté broccoli, bred with Brassica villosa, a broccoli ancestor discovered a decade ago in western Sicily, contains up to three times the amount of glucoraphanin, a compound that helps increase antioxidant levels.

Melorange melons, bred with a citron gene, are up to 30 percent sweeter than winter melons. Finally, as the name indicates, EverMild onions have lower levels of pyruvate, affecting pungency and lachrymatory factor, what makes you cry when you slice an onion.

Many are seeing Monsanto’s apparent change in focus away from GMO fruits and vegetables as proof of the power of consumer voice and a step forward for the non-GMO movement.

However, others are questioning Monsanto’s motives and whether this “superproduce” is actually healthier than conventional fruits and vegetables.

Many criticize Monsanto’s quest for flavor. Monsanto engineers have been focusing on finding ways to make their produce tastier, more flavorful, and therefore more attractive to consumers. A lot of this flavor, however, has to do with sugar content. For example, Monsanto’s Melorange melon and the still-in-the-works Summer Slice watermelon are bred to have a higher sugar content.

“Is that unhealthy?” asks Paynter. “No one really knows, but it’s certainly true that the law doesn’t require Monsanto to account for potential long-term effects…Nobody has ever tinkered with sugar levels the way Monsanto is attempting.”

Many believe that Monsanto’s motivation, in light of the public backlash against GMOs, is purely motivated by money.

The company says money is not its sole motivator, as making fruits and vegetables taste better will encourage individuals to eat more of them. “That’s good for society and, let’s face it, good for business,” said David Stark, head of Monsanto’s global trade division to Wired.

It is important to point out, as does Paynter, that “Monsanto is still Monsanto,” enforcing contracts that prohibit re-growing seeds and containing strict exclusion clauses for harvests that do not meet the company’s standards.

Additionally, this new line of produce does not necessarily signal a change on Monsanto’s main focus, which continues to be GMO commodity crops like corn and soybean, where the company is an undisputed world leader.

As consumers learn about Monsanto’s new non-GMO vegetables and as these products are rolled out onto local supermarket produce sections, many are confused. While technically not genetically engineered, these are not your regular fruits and vegetables.

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  • Bill Goode

    I don’t trust Monsanto, period. Monsanto needs to be held liable for the damage they have done. Monsanto needs to concentrate on REMOVING GMO from our environment. Otherwise non-GMO crops will continue to become infiltrated with GMO.

    Until Monsanto actually starts undoing the damage it has done, I would not trust anything coming from Monsanto.

  • alaneames

    Until Monsanto pulls their GMO products off the market & stops selling them ANYWHERE, and makes restitution to all the farmers they’ve damaged or put out of business because the farmer’s crops were contaminated with Monsanto’s GMO creations, they are not fit to rejoin the community of “providers of healthy & nutritious food.”

    Also, interesting that they make no mention of nutritional values in their PR for the new non-GMO varieties. Great that people will eat more fruits & vegetables, but what is the point of eating more of something if there is no nutrition to be had from it. Prove to me that it’s healthier or more nutritious than existing varieties (and no genetic modifications), then you have something that is worthy of being promoted.

  • Lovinmalamutes

    As though anyone with any reasoning skills would actually BELIEVE they are truthful! Hahahahahahaha Not me or mine will they catch in this BIg line of bs!

  • moon1234

    This article is spreading fear where there is none. Farmers have been increasing sugar content of fruits and veggies for MANY hundreds of years. Melons are selected primarily based on their BRIX content, which is soluble solids, or another term for sugar content. Higher BRIX usually translates to higher sugar content and sweeter taste.
    Cross pollination is the normal process by which plants reproduce. They can only reproduce with other plants with which they are naturally genetically compatible. Monsanto did NOT invent the genetic marking technology that they are using. It was done by university researches. Basically they found that a plant expresses a protein for each gene sequence. A gene sequence that gives a plant a higher sugar content can be determined once we know what protein is produced. Then it is a simple matter to grow a large amount of plants you think has the protein you want, sample each plant (it is fast and simple) and only select the ones that have the genes you want for cross pollination.
    A few iterations of that and you have one parent that has traits you want ready to be bred with a plant that is receptive to those genes and probably contains other desirable traits like disease resistance or vigor. The progeny of these parents is the seed farmers and gardeners plant. Each year the cross pollination needs to occur again to get seeds with the proper genetics. The seeds saved from what the farmer grew will most likely not breed true if planted again (due to cross pollination in the field).
    Many people don’t realize that edible tomatoes did not exist a few hundred years ago. All members of the nightshade family (Potatoes, Tomatoes, etc.) produce toxic amounts of certain substances in their leaves and fruit. Two small berries, which look like small cherries, from a wild nightshade plant is enough to kill a toddler. It took many years of selective breeding to select a tomato plant that had very low levels of this toxin in the fruit so we can eat it. It is why tomatoes were not very popular until a few hundred years ago.
    Seminis did a LOT of conventional breeding before they were bought by Monsanto. A still grow a few of their veggies.
    Most people also don’t realize that all strawberries are clones. Yes, all strawberry plants are clones. A few cells of a desirable plants are grown using tissue culture in a lab in thousands of small petri dishes. These multiple and grow in small plants which are planted in a nursery until the grow into plants. Eventually these plants are sold to farmers. So thousands of acres of strawberries are all clones of one plant. Is this a problem? Not really. The cells divide naturally we just put a few in each dish and nurse them along so they grow. They are not genetically modified. The word “clone” though is a scary term as most people think of animal or human cloning.
    Without a proper background in how these techniques work, why they are used, what the pitfalls can be, it is impossible to write a balanced article. A proper debate is whether these veggies are better for our health or not. My guess is that eating these veggies is probably better for you than drinking a can of high sugar soda. If produce consumption goes up, that is good for everyone’s health.
    Patenting the genetics though I have a really hard time with. I much prefer this type of research be done by land grant universities. They get a one time royalty when they sell the seed. After that the farmer can save the seed, use it to breed, etc. I think we need laws for private development that mirror this philosophy. If a hybrid requires cross pollination every year, then MOST farmers are going to re-buy seed. The very smart among us would need a background in genetics to replicate the seed breeders success.
    What I don’t like is seed genetics being owned by any company. It is wrong to assign ownership to DNA. A one off payment for the development of a new variety is fair. After that the genetics should be free for others to use in breeding to make all vegetables healthier, more productive, tastier, etc.