TEXT ON SCREEN: May 18, 1994
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 5-18-94):CONNIE CHUNG: Here they come: genetically engineered tomatoes.
ARCHIVAL (KXTV10 SACRAMENTO, 5-21-94):ANCHOR: Calgenes Flavr Savr Tomato went on the market today
ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, 5-18-94):TOM BROKAW: The first genetically engineered food approved for sale, the tomato stays riper, longer, than the non-engineered variety, and they say its tastier
ROGER SALQUIST: It was a hell of a good product!
ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, 5-18-94):TOM BROKAW: they say.
ARCHIVAL (KOVR13 SACRAMENTO, 5-21-94):NEWS REPORT: A taste that took eight years and $20 million to develop
ARCHIVAL (KCRA3 SACRAMENTO, 5-21-94):WOMAN: Sure, Ill be buying these, I like em.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 5-18-94):JIM MARYANSKI: This tomatos every bit as safe as all the tomatoes that we have in the grocery store.
ARCHIVAL (KOVR13 SACRAMENTO, 5-21-94):NEWS REPORT: But this high-tech tomato has its critics
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 5-18-94):JEREMY RIFKIN: I think the Food and Drug Administration has put the profits of industry ahead of public health and safety.
ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 5-26-92):DAN QUAYLE: We will not compromise safety one bit.
BELINDA MARTINEAU: 20 years later, do we really know enough about what were doing with the technology?
BILL HIATT: You know, its just a tomato.
SEEING RED: THE FLAVR SAVR TOMATO
NARRATION: In the 1980s, a group of biotech scientists from Davis, California, set out to transform a core American industry.
ROGER SALQUIST (FORMER CEO, CALGENE): The US market for fresh tomatoes was like $4 billion plus; it was a big market, and it was one where everybody was dissatisfied with the product.
BILL HIATT (VP OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT, PRODUCE DIVISION, CALGENE): The bulk of tomatoes dont taste that good, because theyre picked green, and theyre induced to ripen artificially.
BELINDA MARTINEAU (FORMER PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST, CALGENE): So if you could alter the process by which a tomato softens while its ripening on the vine, and keep it firm enough so that it could survive trucking to market, youd have a big fresh market tomato business.
NARRATION: Calgene was at the forefront of a movement to genetically engineer plants that held great promise for the agricultural industry.
BILL HIATT: We were all very excited. You know, maybe we can have some broad benefit to agriculture by developing a new tool.
BELINDA MARTINEAU: We had our hands on a gene that was involved in this softening process.
ROGER SALQUIST: When we, and others, invented the technology for turning a gene off, it became clear that what we should do was turn off the gene that makes a tomato get squishy.
ARCHIVAL (NBC TODAY, 6-2-89):ROGER SALQUIST: So the result is that we have a tomato that was picked thirty days ago, that has not been refrigerated, and is as perfect as the day it was picked, when compared to a normal tomato, thats been sitting around, and doesnt look too good.
BILL HIATT: The unusual part was that it worked. It was a big surprise.
ARCHIVAL (KXTV10 SACRAMENTO, 5-21-94):ANCHOR: Well if you think theres a lot of excitement about the Rolling Stones, wait til you hear this story: you can have a Super Tomato in your very own home.
DAN CHARLES (FOOD AND AGRICULTURE CORRESPONDENT, NPR): The coverage in the media was, ooh, look at this crazy, whacky, new thing theyre trying.
ARCHIVAL (KOVR13 SACRAMENTO, 5-21-94):MALE ANCHOR: Do they bounce?FEMALE ANCHOR: They probably do.
ROGER SALQUIST: The media loved what we were doing cause it was a different story.
ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, TODAY SHOW, 6-2-89):JANE PAULEY: I am holding in front of my face a prototype. This is a tomato!
BILL HIATT: Its like a cute little fruit. How benign, you know?
ALAN BENNETT (PROFESSOR OF PLANT SCIENCES, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-DAVIS): So it was exciting times, nobody knew the rules, uh, nobody knew what the regulatory process was.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 5-26-92):DAN QUAYLE: We will ensure that biotech products will receive the same oversight as other products, instead of being hampered by unnecessary regulation.
ROGER SALQUIST: We didnt have to go to the FDA to get this thing approved, but I said, if we dont, were just not going to get the public acceptance we want on this. I mean, our strategy was one of total transparency. We asked questions about the technology from day one, and I didnt have any concerns about it.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 3-16-93):MICHAEL TAYLOR: The change in the composition of the food produced through one of these new techniques is insignificant or theres no change at all.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 5-26-92):REPORTER: But manipulation of nature troubles some.
MARGARET MELLON (UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS): We were concerned that there might be unknown risks associated with these new genetic manipulations.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 3-16-93):MARGARET MELLON: They are underestimating the risks of the technology
MARGARET MELLON: We thought this was an important national debate.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 3-16-93):JEREMY RIFKIN: It may be benign, but it may turn out to be toxic. Our position is better safe than sorry.
NARRATION: The opponents of GMOs were a vocal few, but they had little impact on the publics response, when the Flavr Savr Tomato was brought to market in May of 1994.
ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, TODAY SHOW, 5-21-93):KATIE COURIC: Last week the FDA gave its long-awaited seal of approval to this countrys first genetically engineered food. Its a tomato called Flavr Savr.
ARCHIVAL (KCRA3 SACRAMENTO, 5-21-94):CUSTOMER: These are the new Calgenes?GROCER: Yes they are.CUSTOMER: Oh, great! Mmm.GROCER: Isnt that wonderful?
ROGER SALQUIST: People loved it, and we sold every tomato that we ever got to market for at least two times the going price of other tomatoes.
ARCHIVAL (KCRA3 SCRAMENTO, 5-21-94): REPORTER: So the fact that its genetically engineered doesnt bother you? WOMAN: Oh, not a bit.
BELINDA MARTINEAU: Calgenes product was well received by the public, and I think that was largely due to having been so transparent about the process.
ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, TODAY SHOW, 5-21-93): KATIE COURIC: Are they clearly labelled? REPORTER: Yes they are.
BELINDA MARTINEAU: It was labelled on the cellophane wrapper on the tomato, it had point of purchase brochures explaining how the tomato was genetically engineered, and had a 1-800 number on it.
ARCHIVAL (KOVR13 SACRAMENTO, 5-21-94): CURTIS GEE: When it comes winter time, when people are searching for that homegrown flavor, now theyll be able to get it.
BELINDA MARTINEAU: They flew off the shelves here in Davis, the local grocer rationed them.
ROGER SALQUIST: Thats a good problem to have, unfortunately we just didnt get enough to market at a reasonable enough cost.
DAN CHARLES: They didnt understand agriculture at all, in ways that were actually quite comical. They pick some tomatoes in Mexico, and send them up to Chicago. Truck rolls up, its dark, its cold, they open the truck, and realize that the boxes had just fallen all over the place. There was mashed up, broken fruit everywhere.
BILL HIATT: Uh, we had to get a lot of the food out by shovel, you know, so, we were in over our head.
BELINDA MARTINEAU: We were, really, a bunch of gene jockeys, you know, not tomato farmers.
DAN CHARLES: From the plant breeding part of it, knowing what kind of varieties would grow in what parts of the country, the handling the fruit part of it, all kinds of ways. You know, they just fell flat on their faces.
BILL HIATT: I didnt like the whole tomato business, you know. Its a shame we ever had to get into it.
ROGER SALQUIST: I was disappointed that we hadnt made a bigger commercial impact, and after twelve years of doing it, to be honest with you, I was just out of gas. We wound up selling the company to Monsanto. The main reason they acquired us: because we had patents on key technology, and I think in the final analysis, they didnt want an upstart out there who was calling for labelling, when they didnt want labelling at that time.
NARRATION: Monsanto denies its opposition to labelling GMO foods played any role in acquiring Calgene. The company eventually shelved the Flavr Savr tomato.
ARCHIVAL (PBS NEWSHOUR, 12-24-09):NEWS REPORT: Monsanto: producing more.
NARRATION: Today, Monsanto makes billions every year by selling seeds for a few staple crops, infused with genes that kill insects and resist weed killers. By 2012, the GMO industry accounted for 93% of Americas soybeans, and 88% of corn. Much of which ends up, unlabelled, in processed foods.
BELINDA MARTINEAU: Its the products that came after Calgenes tomato that decided not to label, and contributed to the publics weariness. So the industry, I feel, has let us down.
MARGARET MELLON: I think the ham handed refusal to label genetically engineered products was one of the reasons that Europe turned against the technology.
NARRATION: In the European Union, GMO products must be labelled by law. And in the US, that movement has picked up steam in recent years, leading to contentious legislation, and a battle for converts over the airwaves.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 11-5-12):REPORTER: The No Campaign has raised more than $45 million, funded primarily by biotech, chemical, and food industry giants.
ARCHIVAL (WUSA, 10-12-12): MAN: Americans have the right to know whats in their food, and corporations dont have the right to hide that information to protect their profits.
DAN CHARLES: Unless you convince me that theres some sort of real difference to my health or something, I dont, Ive never understood exactly why labelling, you know, mattered that much.
BILL HIATT: If you want to label genetic engineering, then you should also label breeding. Tomato breeders, they move thousands of genes whenever they cross tomatoes. You know, like the original tomato is inedible. Its toxic. And so through breeding over time, theyve made it into something that consumers like. Breeders move many genes, we moved one.
ROGER SALQUIST: I said back in 1990, and Ill still say it today, Im not aware of a single report documented of 30 years of transgenic plants where a single person has got sick or died from the use of transgenic plants.
NARRATION: Many scientists say that genetically engineered foods are safe, and the FDA says they monitor safety through a consultation process with the companies that make them. But some still worry about potential risks, and call for more independent testing.
BELINDA MARTINEAU: Our gene, we took from a tomato. And then we reinserted it into a tomato. So it was relatively innocuous. There were, at the time, products in the pipeline where bacterial genes were gonna be inserted into corn.
NARRATION: And with the first genetically engineered animal a fast growing salmon awaiting approval for sale, the science continues to evolve. Todays biotech companies have learned from the Flavr Savrs mistakes: Calgene had pioneered a cutting-edge technology, but applied it in the wrong market.
DAN CHARLES: This was a genetically engineered tomato that they were marketing as offering the consumer a better experience. Thats different from what turned out to be commercially successful. The commercially successful genetically engineered crops were things that farmers might want to plant.
BILL HIATT: More of the products now are a benefit to the farmer, and not the consumer. The consumer doesnt really understand, why am I getting this engineered food?
NARRATION: Today, there are no genetically engineered tomatoes on store shelves. Instead, most supermarket tomatoes are still grown and harvested for yield more than taste: the way they were before the Flavr Savr was born.
DAN CHARLES: It was like a flameout early in the GMO story, and theres been nothing really like it ever since.