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GM purple tomatoes from Norfolk Healthy Produce
UK-based Norfolk Plant Sciences (NPS) has developed tomatoes that contain high levels of polyphenols found in blueberries, blackcurrants, acai, and pomegranates. Image credit: Norfolk Healthy Produce, a US subsidiary of NPS.

Brief: Antioxidant-packed GM purple tomatoes clear final regulatory hurdle to enter US market

July 10, 2023

Norfolk Plant Sciences (NPS) has completed a pre-market consultation with the FDA on the safety of purple tomatoes genetically engineered to produce high levels of health-promoting anthocyanins as it gears up to launch in the US.

Following a three-year review, the FDA said it had “no further questions concerning human food derived from Del/Ros1-N tomato at this time.” The ‘no questions’ letter arrived nine months after the company satisfied USDA that its purple tomatoes presented no additional safety risks vs conventional tomatoes, said NPS.

“With this achievement, the company is ready to introduce a range of purple tomato products, including fresh tomatoes and seeds for home gardeners.”

‘An important process for public trust in new products’

The consultation process is voluntary, Dr. Nathan Pumplin at NPS’ US subsidiary Norfolk Healthy Produce, told AgFunder News (AFN). “However, we believe that it is an important process for public trust in new products, and it is a de facto hurdle for all transgenic crops marketed in the US. We also believe that it is important to have this final letter to support our grower and channel partners, so they may message to their customers that the product has been reviewed.”

He added: “Our products have been available for non-commercial sampling [at industry events such as SynBioBeta] for several months. Since receiving the news from FDA, our grower partners have slowly started making fruit available for purchase at select restaurants and farmers markets.

“We have begun a soft launch of fresh purple tomatoes, with very limited supply and distribution, and we will make seeds available to home gardeners shortly. Moving forward, we are working to expand production and distribution of fresh purple tomatoes, while we also expand our portfolio of purple tomato products and other innovative crop varieties.”

GM purple tomatoes from Norfolk Healthy Produce
UK-based Norfolk Plant Sciences (NPS) has developed tomatoes that contain high levels of polyphenols found in blueberries, blackcurrants, acai, and pomegranates. Image credit: Norfolk Healthy Produce, a US subsidiary of NPS.

Purple flesh and skin

While many tomatoes have purple skin, Norfolk’s tomatoes also have purple flesh, says the firm, which activates the pathway that produces the anthocyanins in the fruit of the tomato by taking two genes from the snapdragon flower that are activated during the ripening process.

“These genes are like switches that turn on the natural purple pigments of tomatoes and we get these higher levels of antioxidants,” said Pumplin.

“And the great thing is that we can make any kind of tomato variety purple, from a large heirloom slicer to a sweet little cherry tomato, making them extra nutritious.

“The antioxidants also slow the softening, so they give you more days of freshness. Most commercial tomatoes are bred not to ripen fully, which is how they can go through the supply chain. What our tomato allows us to do is have a fully ripe, fully flavored tomato like the heirloom varieties that you pick in your backyard garden, but three days later they’re mush. It allows us to have that full flavor and still get through the supply chain.”

Further reading:

GM tomatoes are coming back, but this time they’re purple, and packed with new health benefits

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