Week #5 - Social and Ethical Issues (Due 2/20)
In 1992, the biotechnology company Calgene applied for approval of their rot-resistant tomato, the Flavr Savr tomato. They had engineered the tomato plant by introducing a copy of the gene encoding a softening enzyme downstream of, and in reverse orientation to, a strong promoter active in the fruit. When the engineered gene is transcribed, an "antisense RNA," complementary in sequence to the softening enzyme mRNA, is produced. The antisense RNA binds to the normal RNA and blocks translation of the softening enzyme so the tomatoes stay ripe longer. The FDA approved the sale of the tomato without any additional labeling because the DNA that had been introduced into the tomato was tomato DNA. (The FDA's policy on bioengineered foods is to label food as genetically engineered only when a new substance has been introduced that could cause an allergy or when there has been a change to the foods nutritional value.) Several consumer groups were upset by the FDA's action and wanted to see labeling about genetic modification appear on the tomatoes in the stores. Their protest significantly stalled the sale of these tomatoes. Were the consumer groups' actions, which blocked an advance that people might have wanted, warranted? Are these groups important watchdogs of everyone's well-being, or are they hindering progress?