Is there no public space so sacred we won't whore it out?

Copley Square this morning. Photo by Allison Francis.Copley Square this morning. Photo by Allison Francis.

The Public Garden, maybe, or the Old Granary Burying Ground, perhaps. But obviously not Copley Square or Christopher Columbus Park, which were filled this morning with squishy little ads for a tomato company. Granted, a company that is donating 3,000 cans of their product to a local food drive, but still. As Amy Deveau tweeted:

What a waste! This is a total waste - perfectly good tomatoes sitting on the GROUND. Awful. And people in NY/NJ are homeless! It's just so thoughtless, wasteful, stupid and insensitive. This whole muirglenorganic tomato-gate is making me super stabby this AM. I've never heard of you, but you just lost me as a customer.

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Apparently there's a QR code for a coupon on the other side. And even if I were to consider possibly eating an intact tomato that had been sitting on the pavement, each of these has been pierced with a wooden skewer, so no, I don't think so.

Oh My

Somebody needs to get a sense of proportion.

First of all, this is biodegradable, unlike, say, fabric-covered things full of rocks.

Second, this woman has no clue how much food is wasted by, say, her favorite food store or take out place if this gets her worked up like this.

Rotten Tomatoes

Biodegradable, yes, but have you ever had close contact with rotten tomatoes? I have. I drove for, and worked in a warehouse for, a fruit and produce company. There is little more retch-inducing than the foul stench of rotting tomatoes. If they aren't removed, instead left there to biodegrade, that will be one hideously stinky place.

Suldog
http://jimsuldog.blogspot.com

If they aren't removed,

If they aren't removed, instead left there to biodegrade, that will be one hideously stinky place.

And that's when we'll all gather them up, go over to the office of the ad group what prepared this scheme and give them all back. With great force.

That's not what "genetically modified" means

"Genetically Modified", as used in current scientific/commercial/regulatory context, refers to organisms whose genetic material has been altered using transgenetic engineering techniques (ie taking genes from one species and placing them into the DNA of another species).

Selective breeding does not create GMOs.

For example, hybrid tomatoes like Early Girl or Sun Gold are not GMOs. They were created by cross-breeding naturally occuring stable tomato varieties. Given time, any gardener (or nature itself) could recreate these plants.

Conversely, tomatoes like Flavr Saver and Endless Summer were created by taking genes from bacteria and inserting them into a tomato plant's DNA. This is impossible without direct and sophisticated human intervention. Arguably, the organisms created in this manner are no longer members of any of the existing five taxonomic kingdoms (animal, plant, fungi, protozoa, bacteria). In this sense GMOs are profoundly different from any other food humans have ever consumed in our entire evolutionary history.

The possibilities for using transgenetic tech to create useful and profitable organisms are pretty obvious (longer shelf life, drought resistant, better flavor, more nutritive etc). The controversy comes from the debate over whether our current understanding of GMOs is sufficient to anticipate and adequately assess the potential negative consequences of their widespread distribution and consumption.

Even if(when) we reach consensus on managably safe and effective means of using GMOs for food, I can still see the legitimacy of the argument that they should not be considered "organic" as that word is widely understood to signify naturally occuring (or even potentially naturally occuring) agricultural means and products.

Scientific bullshit

Conversely, tomatoes like Flavr Saver and Endless Summer were created by taking genes from bacteria and inserting them into a tomato plant's DNA. This is impossible without direct and sophisticated human intervention. Arguably, the organisms created in this manner are no longer members of any of the existing five taxonomic kingdoms (animal, plant, fungi, protozoa, bacteria). In this sense GMOs are profoundly different from any other food humans have ever consumed in our entire evolutionary history.

Flavr Savr is a tomato that contains an anti-sense gene (a gene with the opposite/complementary genetic code to one of the tomatoes own genes such that the protein the tomato's gene encodes will never be made as the new gene cancels out the native gene). Not a bacterial gene, an artificial one and one that doesn't even get made into a protein. It's sole purpose is to tie up the original tomato's gene so that the native protein is never made. If you wanted to selectively breed a tomato missing that gene, you could do so after a long time of trying. You could provide the right environmental conditions for an offspring to be born without that gene that also wouldn't leave it susceptible to pressures that keep its cultivar from growing. Search hard enough to discover it and select it for future offspring and you'd have the exact same tomato in practice. No bacterial DNA involved. The shortcut is just to be able to turn off that protein (it was an enzyme responsible for softening due to the destruction of pectin) by an anti-sense version of the gene and not have to find a tomato that doesn't have the protein to begin with.

Your other example of Endless Summer is yet another tomato that has no bacterial DNA. They inserted a second, shortened copy of a protein responsible for creating ethylene, the chemical plants use to cause ripening. The shortened copy interfered with the original tomato's copy in making ethylene, thus slowing ripening. Again, no bacterial DNA involved. They just used a modified version of the tomato's own DNA to alter activity. Again, with enough time and effort, you have the possibility to have produced the same thing on the vine.

Are some GMO plants engineered using bacterial DNA? Yes. But the two examples you gave are actually perfect counter-points to your whole post.

Finally, I take exception to your suggestion that horizontal gene transfer doesn't happen in nature. That somehow putting a bacterial gene into a plant makes it fall outside the five kingdoms of taxonomy...which is entirely non-scientific and laughable.

Here is a classic example of why you are wrong: Are you familiar with the mitochondria? It's an organelle in your (and nearly every plant, animal, and fungi) cells that is extremely similar to a bacteria all by itself. It has its own DNA that is in your cells. The prevailing scientific theory is that it was an endosymbiotic bacteria similar to today's rickettsia that lost its independence and became part of the cells of higher order organisms.

But more directly to simple gene transfer would be a recent example like the insect pea aphid. It has genes in its genome that can be determined to have come from fungi because they come from the photosynthesis system. They allow the aphid to create carotenoids, light-absorbing pigments that animals sometimes use for their own purposes after ingesting plants but hadn't previously made themselves like the pea aphid has the fungal DNA to do. Nobody thinks the pea aphid needs to be reclassified because of it.

Want GMO labeled? Want more research on GMO safety? Want to keep GMO plants from being able to be called "organic" or "organically grown"? All valid discussions, but your inability to argue these points without being incorrect (and possibly even being intentionally misleading) on the science is exactly why the industry is seriously afraid of going down a lot of these roads from the status quo. The public is either intentionally frightened by anti-GMO advocates or simply naive about the science involved and most can't make an informed decision WITH or WITHOUT labels, etc.

A few good tomatoes...

Because "you can't handle the truth".

That's not directed at you personally. It's a problem with the anti-intellectual cheerleading today. Science outpaces education because people don't choose to learn the latest science. We are talking about a public that's just (pardon the pun) warming up to climate change. The branding of "GMO" is a stigma unearned by the evidence so far. There are problems with the way companies like Monsanto are using GMO as a crutch against pests and I don't trust Monsanto much at all to do anything in the public interest. So, they make it difficult to defend the science as they equally choose to use it as a money-making tool alone. But that also doesn't mean anything they do is inherently unsafe...but that is the prevailing mindset of the consumer. And anti-GMO advocates aren't helping. Look at the claims above. Tomatoes that we're engineered with variants of tomato genes are labeled as otherworldly and science fiction. That is what the public hears and reacts to during an on-the-shelf decision. Do I buy the one with the box that says GMO or the one with the little auntie digging in her garden that says organic?

Organic growers are using the labeling argument to drive people away from GMO-based products. The consumer is not well informed and they want to take advantage of that. Imagine how few corrective eye surgeries would take place if 30 years ago the doctors were required to put a sign up in their window pointing out that a communist Russian first discovered the procedure.

Spoken like a man ...

Who doesn't have to read every label for presence of cornmeal or cornstarch due to an allergy that "magically" developed in mid-life ... and at a time when the GMO content of the cornmeal supply in the US was skyrocketing.

And I have a PhD in epidemiology and am well aware of the science of immunology, thank you very much. Sufficiently aware and in contact with physicians and research scientists who understand that midlife allergy development to something I have been eating since I was an infant is pretty damn unusual ... except for the fact that that something now contains proteins that it did not contain before.

Correlation isn't causation

You claim to know better but you say it anyways.

So, you're in the camp of the intentional fearmongerers?

I hear vaccines will give your kids autism too. This one person one time had a kid diagnosed with autism just after he had a fever after getting a vaccination...so, there, it's proven.

Was your allergen test done using GMO versus non-GMO corn too? Which GMO are you suddenly allergic to? The Roundup Ready corn with a bacterial version of EPSPS enzyme or the Bt corn with the anti-pest protein in it? Are you also suddenly allergic to soy where these things are also in use or just corn?

I think you are part of the problem. Thanks for the example.

Yes, you should not be there.

I never understood how well these type of PR campaigns work for companies. I just see this as silly and, on some level, a waste to a good tomato or two or three. Plus, heck, I would not want to be the city worker who has to clean up potentially squished tomatoes all over the darn sidewalks. Really, people, can't you pitch your "do gooding" another way?

Get over yourself. Yeah sure,

Get over yourself. Yeah sure, waste of food and all, but then what about say, all the money spent on political campaign ads recently? Because that could have feed a whole lot more people than these tomatoes. Im sure we could come up with a very long list of worse wasting than this.

Don't be hating...

Wasteful is being wasteful. Maybe Amy did not articulate her thoughts the best she could but she just saw this PR stunt as a waste of good produce. There is really nothing wrong with that.

Of course, we could come up with a list, a very long one at that, of all sorts of waste, personal, governmental, corporate...

And one can argue degrees of "waste" but that is missing the point. Adam's post was about a company depositing tomoatoes in a public place as part of an apparent advertising stunt.

Just looking for less snark and more kindness.