SEEING RED: THE FLAVR SAVR TOMATO

RETRO REPORT  / NEW YORK TIMES, 12 min (2013) editor

In the 1990s, a bunch of gene jockeys brought the first genetically engineered food to market.  The business crashed but biotech science has flourished far beyond the produce aisle. 

In May 1994, a tomato appeared on supermarket shelves across the country that was unlike anything Americans had eaten before. Grown from so-called “Flavr Savr” seeds, it was the first genetically engineered food approved for sale, dreamed up by a group of scientists in a California lab.

The new tomato promised a clear benefit: a longer-lasting, better-tasting fruit. And as biotech pioneers looked on, its approval from the Food & Drug Administration ushered in a multi-billion dollar industry with the potential to rethink how we grow crops.

But today, the tomato is nowhere to be found, and a growing segment of the population is wary of technology that once fascinated. What happened to the Flavr Savr, and what does it tell us about the industry it birthed?