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Animal DNA in My Tomato???

GMO vegetables - Frankenfood

I have a handful of friends and some family members that are vegetarians and, although I’ll take a pork chop over a leafy salad any day, I’ve got no qualms with vegetarians or vegans. It happened that a couple days ago I was having a conversation with some old friends who happened to be vegetarians. As with any old acquaintances catching up on each others’ lives we talked about our jobs. They had never heard about Monsanto so I described what the company did, mainly, our development of genetically modified (GM) seeds.

The responses I received were surprising.

“Doesn’t that mean you guys put fish DNA in tomatoes and make potatoes with spider DNA?” and “I just eat organic veggies because GMO vegetables have animal DNA.”

This is not the first time I’ve heard statements like this but it’s still astonishing to me that people think that this is true. It was further proof to me that there are a lot of misconceptions about GMO vegetables and crops.

I should first explain that vegetables are typically not genetically engineered.

Primarily, traits in vegetables are accomplished through breeding technology. Breeding is more cost effective than genetic engineering given the amount of time and research it takes to develop biotech traits. So, most vegetables you run across are, in fact, not genetically engineered.

However, there are a few vegetables and fruits that do have biotech traits and have been on the market for quite awhile now. Biotechnology is generally used when a trait is needed but breeding can’t accomplish the development of the trait fast enough.

One example is virus-resistant papaya which was released in 1998. Papaya is a major commodity produced in Hawaii and, before the release of this product, Hawaii was at risk of losing one its major industries since the papaya ringspot virus (PRV) was wiping out all papaya grown on the islands. Since the release of virus-resistant papaya, it has been widely adopted and has saved the papaya industry in Hawaii.

Another example would be virus-resistant squash which has made it possible to grow squash in areas that would have had crops wiped out by viruses. For those who grow squash in virus-populated areas it was the difference between having a healthy crop or no crop at all. Interestingly, virus-resistant squash was actually not developed by Monsanto but rather was acquired through an acquisition.

Now, onto the bigger issue – there are no commercial biotech products owned or produced by Monsanto that have animal DNA. I’m not sure how this rumor got started but it’s just not true.

Most biotech or GE crops (maize, soy, cotton…) are actually developed with agrobacterium which acts as a transfer agent. The most common traits in GE crops are herbicide tolerance (HT) and insect resistance (IR). HT plants contain genetic material from common soil bacteria. IR crops contain genetic material from a bacterium that attacks certain insects. One example is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), an IR trait. Bt is expressed in the plant and targets specific insects–and is not harmful to humans. BT is actually used in organic farming too, but it’s sprayed on the plants.

So, again, there is NO animal DNA in GMO vegetables, fruits or grains. Zero, none, zilch! If you’re a vegetarian and don’t want to pay a premium for organic, don’t worry, biotech foods are vegetarian friendly.

Side note: Biotech has even made cheese vegetarian friendly. Previously, cheese was made with rennet, coagulate harvested from a calf’s stomach, but biotechnology has developed a ‘genetically modified’ version that contains no animal DNA. Kosher cheese often uses GM rennet.

Kate works on the corporate website for Monsanto in the public affairs department. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Truman State University. Kate grew up in an Air Force family and has lived in sevaral states and countries but spent the majority of her childhood growing up in Iowa. Kate enjoys art and photography as well as horseback riding.

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27 Responses to "Animal DNA in My Tomato???"

  1. All right ill be the first to say…..

    How can you say that which is stated above and yo work for these guys.
    That is all b.s.
    and there is animal genes in tomatos.

    Made by …..The samuel robert noble foundation.
    One search and i find positive proof.
    And secondly who is working in partnership with your sister company CERES(who provides you with genetic technology)… On grasses and changing them so that they can break down quicker for ethanol. “So we can make oklahoma a new opec. After all if we turned all their farmland in to ethanol production look at the money!!”
    In this day and age it doesnt take much to corroborate anything in this world. I would expect more from someone being employed to not claim such obviously inaccurate information.

    Saddened really to see that once again a large industry is corrupt just like our bankers and the like. sad is all.

  2. scared stiff,
    Thank you for taking your time to comment on my post, I wish you had taken the time to read the post however.

    “there are no commercial biotech products owned or produced by Monsanto that have animal DNA.”

    The Samuel Robert Noble Foundation is a research group. Genes are moved around for research purposes but there are not animal genes in commercial GM products.

    Thanks again for the comment.

  3. I think it helps to understand that there is no such thing as “Animal DNA”. There is DNA in animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and some viruses, and there are some differences between the codon bias, and other indications of what organism they recently came from. But DNA can move between species via lateral gene transfer… humans alone have about 100 genes from bacteria – and countless endogenous retroviruses. Are these human DNA? Bacterial and viral DNA? What about genes that are identical (or only slightly different) between plants and animals – the basic functions of all eukaryotic cells are universally shared.

    Still, it is easy to concede that the idea of mixing animals and plants together is disconcerting, except that it is not a blending of animal-ness and plant-ness together, but an transfer of one gene between them. Single genes do not hold the ‘essence’ of being an animal, which is what it seems the vegetarian unease over GE crops is about.

    Also, the GE rennet makes it Vegan, too!

  4. The problem with this arguement is it is both true and false. In early development studies, animal DNA was used to find out how DNA was moved and inserted into plant DNA. However, it never has been, nor will it ever be a commercial product. It was only a tool for study. As far as Monsanto is concerned, it goes against our pledge, as a company, to create any product with animal DNA. As far as scared stiff is concerned, you are over reacting without any proof. Just because the study was done, doesn’t make it a product. Also, I don’t think that study was done at Monsanto, however I am not 100 percent sure.

  5. I know this won’t be profound by any means, but I did want to say: well put, Karl. Excellent point.

    Nice post as well, Kate.

  6. Just out of curiosity, do the same friends avoid eating… essentially anything (I guess predominantly manufactured foods however)…. due to the quantity of insect DNA present? – whole genomes worth no less.

  7. Correct Karl – DNA segments or single genes don’t hold the essence of being an animal. Of course, I am sure there are boundaries people wouldn’t want to cross for other reasons (if a vegetable smelled like fish for example).
    I am a vegetarian, because of religious, non-violence aspect which I think is true for most vegetarians, health could be another reason. Each cell, of animal or plant, has life so there is violence in eating a tomato or wheat but it’s minimum destruction of life that one must cause to sustain life. As I understand, the essence is how much and of what level (plants being the lower level, animals higher level: this is not superiority index!) violence are you causing.
    On a side note, if you look from another angle, Biotech helps reduce pesticide use and thus violence.

  8. Kate, do you eat GM food yourself? Do you feed your children with GM food? Would be interesting to know.

  9. Henricson,
    I DO eat GM foods. I currently do not have any children but when I do they will eat GM foods as well. I actually avoid organic foods but for me it’s more about a cost savings. I just don’t think the increased price represents any additional benefit over conventional or GM foods.

    If you want to read more about GM crop safety then I would suggest these two articles:
    How Monsanto Establishes Biotech Crop Safety: Product Characterization

    How Monsanto Establishes Biotech Crop Safety: Product Safety for Food and Feed

  10. Thanks for the great post.

    One clarification you might want to make in the future: You say “I should first explain that vegetables are typically not genetically engineered.” The typical lay person would take ‘vegetable’ to include corn and soy, which is clearly not what you intended. In the future you may want to be more clear about what you mean when you say ‘vegetable’ as it means different things to different groups of readers.

  11. The main problem with arguments against GM products seems to stem back conspiracy theorists. Unfortunately, no matter the proof provided, these people will continue to provide inaccurate information to their friends and families. This was an excellent post, Kate. Hopefully this will curb the ignorance!

  12. Ken,
    Thanks for your comment! I think I got stuck in agriculture mode and didn’t realize that most people think of corn and soy as vegetables. Great clarification!

  13. Um, Kate, maybe you don’t realize that some of us actually read the papers from Honolulu and those of us who do know that the papaya industry is far from saved! Here is an article (partial) from the Honolulu Advertiser that discusses how genetic modification of papaya has contaminated the entire island of Oahu’s papaya crops and how the export value is all but gone now because Japan (one of the largest markets for Hawaiian papaya, or at least it used to be)will not buy your crappy GMO varieties. Saved the industry? Yeah right!
    Here is the link to the full article. See below for the partial:

    http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2006/Mar/19/bz/FP603190311.html

    Papaya production taking a tumble

    By Sean Hao
    Advertiser Staff Writer

    ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | July 6, 2004

    Hawai’i papaya production sank to a more than 25-year low last year despite record demand among U.S. consumers for the tropical fruit.

    Americans on average now eat 1 pound of papaya annually, which is up from less than one-third of a pound just 10 years ago. That should bode well for growers of Hawai’i’s second largest fruit crop. However, last year papaya production fell 17 percent to 28.5 million pounds, the smallest crop since before 1980. Sales dipped 14 percent to $10.6 million, the lowest amount since 1985.

    Imports from countries such as Mexico and Brazil are helping to fill America’s increasing appetite for papaya.

    Hawai’i’s papaya farmers, as with most farmers on the Islands, are dealing with a long list of challenges, including foreign competition, high costs, fickle weather, insects and disease.

    “Plenty of people are not growing papaya anymore,” said Alberto Belmes, who grows papaya on about 70 acres of land seven miles outside of Hilo. “The price is going down and still the costs of farming goes up.”

    Unlike most other Hawai’i farmers, papaya growers have one other issue with which to deal. Many Hawai’i papaya growers are raising a genetically engineered product that has yet to generate the market acceptance and higher sales prices that non-genetically modified papayas command. Japan, for example, does not accept genetically modified papaya.

    Papaya growers elsewhere are not using the genetically modified product.

    Gee, it seems that the GMO version is not really so much a solution to the problem (crop rotation and smaller scale farming systems instead of huge monocrop systems would have fixed the problem and saved the export markets as well!)as it is just another problem to fix! You people are so full of crap and the sad part is it seems you almost believe the lies you spew!

  14. Henricson and Kate:

    Whenever I see a question like Henricson’s (“do you eat GM food yourself?”), I have to wonder what the definition of “GM food” is.

    My understanding (which may well be incorrect) is that most GM crops are NOT primary inputs into the food stream. They are usually processed into something else or used as animal feed.

    So, how far down the processing stream does “GM” stick?

    Are animals fed GM corn considered “GM”? Does that make people (and other animals) that eat those animals ALSO “GM”?

    Is High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) from GM corn considered “GM”? Does the Coke(R) and Pepsi(R) made from that HFCS thus become “GM”?

    Does ethanol from GM corn become “GM”? Will that then make your CAR “GM”?

    Does refined sugar from GM beets become “GM”, even though it contains NO DNA? What about brownies made at home from that refined sugar?

    Does runoff from fields planted with GM crops become “GM”? Do harvests from no-tilled GM fields become “GM” in subsequent years?

    Do foods fried in oil from GM cotton become “GM”?

    Do clothes made from GM cotton become “GM”? Do (non-food, but still) bandages and tampons made from GM cotton become “GM”?

    Honestly not trying to be a smart-[person], it’s just that the discussion of the definition of “vegetable” got me thinking, and I really want to know what others think, so we’re all having the same conversation.

  15. Editors Note: Offensive language edited out of this post.

    Monsanto and it’s employees are launching a h******** of proportions that will in the end be greater than H******.

    Monsanto is dusting off it’s old Public Relations play book and switching Agent Orange with GMO’s.

    How do any of your employees sleep at night.

  16. As often, the work of Monsanto and was misjudged by some people. Almost every case is distorted to make it bad. I find it regretable but some critics will not change their way of thinking about Monsanto.

  17. I think the whole issue is really why we are using such “inharmonious” techniques to solve problems which can be resolved by ensuring we use and create healthy soils. GM seeds are attacking a result of a larger problem which is created by poor soil health. Large scale die-outs like the papaya ring spot virus in Hawaii were created by environmental (soil) conditions which fostered its spread. Solving the problem by creating a tolerant variety is a temporary solution as the conditions which allowed for its creation still exist. Just like we continually need to find new anti-biotic combinations to fight disease, this virus will mutate or a similar virus will attack creating the need for a new variety. Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity like they say. Fix the root of the problem, not the results of it. Check out biological farming. That is the future.

  18. Good post, Edwin. The reason Monsanto continues to promote temporary fixes rather than dealing with the underlying problem of poor soil health is that they make millions selling one temporary fix after another. If we actually solved poor soil health through organic methods, Monsanto would be out of business.
    Oh, and Kate. Why, if GM crops are so wonderful and benign, does Monsanto fight against the consumers right to know? Surely trusted customers should be able to chose to eat GM, or non-GM products (just like you can chose to ‘avoid organic foods’, as you say). Is it that you don’t actually trust us to make the decision that is good for Monsanto, so you continue to fight for the right to get your GM products into our food without us knowing?

  19. Anywhere there is a large concentration of the same organism, a breeding ground for infectious organisms exists. If the population was dispersed, one organism might get sick, but it would have no way to pass on the disease to others of its kind. Regardless of how they are grown.

    We COULD intermingle our wheat, corn, rice, rye, cotton, soybean, banana, pineapple, papaya, and watermelon crops and drastically reduce the opportunities for infectious diseases through proximity, but the harvesting costs would be prohibitive. People don’t like their CURRENT food bill.

  20. Philip said:

    “Oh, and Kate. Why, if GM crops are so wonderful and benign, does Monsanto fight against the consumers right to know?”

    I’m not Kate, but I’ll take a crack at this. As you yourself point out, there is already a labelling process for “organic” food, which currently excludes GM, so that is certainly an existing option for you “GM labellers”. But let me point out that organic food carries a price premium. Part of that price premium is because it is less efficient to make, and part of it is because SOMEONE has to pay for the certification, labelling, and regulation.

    So it is for “Non-GM” labelling. Monsanto is not (ultimately) going to pay for that. The farmer isn’t going to pay for that. Your local supermarket isn’t going to absorb that cost. YOU, the taxpayer and/or consumer, are going to ultimately pay for that. And I hope it is “you”, the consumer, and not “us”, the taxpayer, that pays for it, because I agree with Monsanto, there is no testable nutritional difference between GM and non-GM food, and only sophisticated genetic tests can tell at the DNA level.

    I asked this above, and this topic went basically silent for a month and a half. Perhaps you, Philip, are willing to answer, since you are so keen on non-GM labelling:

    How far down the processing stream does “GM” stick?

    Are animals fed GM corn considered “GM”? Does that make people (and other animals) that eat those animals ALSO “GM”?

    Is High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) from GM corn considered “GM”? Does the Coke(R) and Pepsi(R) made from that HFCS thus become “GM”?

    Does ethanol from GM corn become “GM”? Will that then make your CAR “GM”?

    Does refined sugar from GM beets become “GM”, even though it contains NO DNA? What about brownies made at home from that refined sugar?

    Does runoff from fields planted with GM crops become “GM”? Do harvests from no-tilled GM fields become “GM” in subsequent years?

    Do foods fried in oil from GM cotton become “GM”?

    Does Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) made from GM soybeans become “GM”? Do the vegetarian
    “burgers” made from that “GM” TVP become “GM”? What about all of the school lunches with TVP?

    Do clothes made from GM cotton become “GM”? Do (non-food, but still) bandages and tampons made from GM cotton become “GM”? What about recycled fibers?

    • Thanks John!

      We also have a post on labeling and Monsanto and a For the Record on it as well!

      The main message to take away, however, is that the U.S. labeling laws are based on health and safety. Requiring labeling for ingredients that don’t pose a health issue would undermine both our labeling laws and consumer confidence.

  21. Kate, you are correct. Thanks for the clarification.

    What I gave were MY reasons for lobbying against unnecessary labelling. Because, for me, a distinct kick in the pocketbook is more alarming than some nebulous non-specific hint of a possible (but non-detectable) threat.

    And that, folks, is why Kate gets paid to do this, while I am an amateur!

    I still want my label for non-exploited left-handed harvesters, though. ;^)

    And also, Kate, thanks for sticking with this discussion beyond the ten-day “expiration date”.

  22. Expanding labeling requirements would not undermine the confidence of any consumers I know. Quite the opposite is true for many people who want to know what they are eating. Information is power, as they say.

    A kick in the pocket book may be the most alarming kick to you, John Q, but many of us are more concerned about health, justice, and the environment. What is the real cost? And who ultimately bears it?

  23. Deborah said:
    “Expanding labeling requirements would not undermine the confidence of any consumers I know. Quite the opposite is true for many people who want to know what they are eating. Information is power, as they say.”

    You apparently know a different set of people than I do. Most of the people I know are pretty un-confident in Govt. “labels” after the recent spate of ingredient tampering and food contamination episodes. Weren’t a lot of those salmonella peanut product labeled “organic”?

    As mentioned here before, US food labeling laws are concerned with safety. Do you REALLY want to know what you are eating? Because you should research the FDA rules on how many rodent hairs, bug parts, whole maggots, and spider eggs are allowed in your produce WITHOUT labeling. And you still have no idea what your food was exposed to in the field or on the way to market. The only way to TRULY know is to grow it yourself. At which point anyone in the US would have to say goodbye to coffee and chocolate, to cite a few examples.

    I want to know that the workers that made the products I consume were pair a fair market wage. Sure, some manufacturers VOLUNTARILY label their products as “Fair Trade”, or whatever, and I try to support those vendors when I can, but the vendors use that label primarily as a marketing tool to justify a higher price. But as far as I know no government agency certifies these products as “Fair Trade”.

    You are WELCOME to ASK the manufacturers of GM products to VOLUNTARILY label those products, but 13 years of “exposure” have not shown a SINGLE verifiable case where GM was a safety or health threat, so the govt. cannot justify labeling it.

    Don’t want GM in your food? Buy organic. Done. And we save the cost of an additional governmental agency, but in terms of taxes and in terms of food costs.

    Deborah said:
    “but many of us are more concerned about health, justice, and the environment.”

    I am concerned about all of these, also. But there are no statistically significant indications that GM is a health concern. GM is justice neutral, as far as I know. And my understanding is GM in many cases is BETTER for the environment than conventional and even organic farming.

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