Pink Pineapples and the Mad, Misunderstood World of GMOs

By: Jacob Leichter  |  October 29, 2020

By Jacob Leichter, Staff Writer

After a 16-year wait, the Del Monte Fresh Produce company has finally announced the commercial release of their Pinkglow pineapple. The “Jewel of the Jungle,” as the company refers to it, is touted as being sweeter and less acidic than its yellow-fleshed cousin. According to Del Monte, the Pinkglow gets its unique color from the addition of lycopene, a naturally occurring pigment most commonly found in red produce, like tomatoes. That makes this new fruit a genetically modified organism (GMO), a term that strikes fear in the hearts of health-conscious eaters everywhere. Does this mean that the Pinkglow pineapple is unsafe? On the contrary. In a 2016 review of the “extra sweet pink flesh pineapple,” the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that it is “as safe and nutritious as its conventional counterparts.”

Such a conclusion has been made time and again regarding GMOs, yet much of the public is wary of the term, preferring to consume “non-GMO” foodstuffs. Why then is genetic modification, or bioengineering, so stigmatized?

Part of the animosity towards GMOs may have to do with how the term comes across. Hearing “genetic modification” may evoke images of mad scientists in dark laboratories, tinkering with chemicals, and introducing dangerous substances into the unsuspecting public’s diet. In reality, the genetic modification of crops has been a pastime of humanity for millennia, with many popular fruits and vegetables being the result of selective breeding to produce cultivars with the most desirable qualities. Take, for example, the banana; the wild version is much smaller and riddled with large seeds compared to the tastier one found in grocery stores worldwide.

Selective breeding, while a more natural means of achieving the creation of more favorable crops, takes a much longer time. To speed up this process, modifications can be made in labs to achieve similar results by directly altering genes or introducing new traits in crops and animals. For crops, most GMO products are used as animal feed. Some of the changes made to produce meant for human consumption, according to the FDA, lead to anything from “insect resistance or drought tolerance” to “higher crop yields” to “better nutrition,” producing plentiful, nutritious crops in more adverse conditions. In animals, a recent example is the AquAdvantage Salmon, a bioengineered version of the Atlantic salmon announced in 2015. This fish is designed to grow quicker and to thrive better in land-based, rather than offshore, environments, thereby reducing farming and transportation costs. All in all, GMOs allow for more sustainable and cost-effective crop and animal production, enabling more people from various socioeconomic classes around the globe to access healthy and diverse foods.

The potential benefits of GMOs are all well and good, but that leaves the most important questions; are they safe for human consumption and are there any negative long-term effects from eating these bioengineering products? The FDA has determined that “GMO foods are as healthful and safe to eat as their non-GMO counterparts” for humans, while “GMO plants fed to farm animals are as safe as non-GMO animal food.” These findings were echoed by a Harvard University meta-review of 20 years’ worth of literature into the safety of GMOs, concluding that they “exhibit no toxicity, in one generation or across many” and that GMOs “as a class are no more likely to be harmful than traditionally bred and grown food sources.”

That said, hopefully some of the stigma surrounding GMOs has been allayed. And for those fruit enthusiasts looking for a novel experience, Del Monte’s photogenic pastel pink fleshed Pinkglow can be enjoyed for a price of $49 per pineapple, available for purchase on the product’s website.  

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