Stores defend 'strange fruit'

Appliance of science: Concern over role of genetics in health and commerce
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The Sainsbury and Safeway supermarket chains said yesterday they were not worried by the prospect of consumers boycotting their tomato puree, made from genetically engineered tomatoes.

Puree from the modified tomatoes, developed by the drug company Zeneca, will be sold in the supermarkets from February. It will be the same price as the normal puree and will be stocked next to it. The puree will also be clearly labelled as being produced from genetically engineered fruit.

Both supermarkets said they were producing leaflets to inform the consumer and to counter the image of "Frankenstein's tomato".

David Cox, spokesman for Sainsbury's, said their primary aim was to offer the consumer a choice. "There are obvious benefits to genetically engineered food, such as enhanced taste and longer shelf-life."

The tomato has been engineered to last longer by slowing down the action of an enzyme which rots the fruit.More of the natural thickening agent pectin is retained.

The notion of "Frankenstein's tomato" was resurrected by Prince Charles on Tuesday night, on the eve of a seminar on Britain's disappearing biodiversity.

He said many people saw genetic engineering as the most promising way forward for agriculture, but his heart sank at the prospect of some of the new crops being planned.

His views were backed by Professor Tim Lang, from the Centre for Food Policy at Thames Valley University. "My view is that the principle is right but it's a big step . . . and yet the consumer is only being asked their views at the end."