Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence


Press release by Seminis Vegetable Seeds, Inc, 4 June 1998


  SATICOY, CALIF.—A research and development alliance between Seminis and Zeneca Plant Science has yielded a genetically modified tomato product that consumers in the United Kingdom favour two to one over its traditionally developed counterpart, according to officials at Zeneca.

  Tomato varieties developed through a collaboration between Petoseed breeders at Seminis and Zeneca Plant Science of London are being used to produce a canned puree that shoppers in the United kingdom have enthusiastically received.

  Since its introduction two years ago, the product has outsold its competition, made from traditionally bred processing tomatoes, by a margin of two to one. More than 1.6 million cans of the puree were sold from the time of its introduction in February 1996 through November 1997. The tomato puree is marketed to consumers through the Safeway and J Sainsbury grocery chains, both based in the United Kingdom.

  Officials of both Seminis and Zeneca say the reason for the product's success is a combination of collaboration among the companies through the entire research, development and marketing chain, as well as a focus on consumer preferences.

  The new hybrids were developed to improve the quality of tomatoes used to make such processed foods as sauce, ketchup, paste, and pizza topping by decreasing the amount of an enzyme responsible for the breakdown of pectin, the natural "glue" that holds together the cell walls of fruit and vegetables. Zeneca isolated key genes responsible for the deterioration, while Petoseed plant breeders employed sophisticated processes to develop the hybrid varieties.

  Since these varieties experience less softening prior to processing, they offer growers and processors the economic benefit of reduced tomato loss and spoilage during harvest and transport. The processing tomatoes also feature a thicker wall, which increases quality and efficiency at all phases of production, from harvesting to cooking to canning, providing the consumer with a quality product at a reasonable price.

  The Zeneca-Petoseed collaboration is the first commercial introduction of a Seminis product developed with the help of biotechnology. The alliance proved to be an optimal blending of "hardware", the Petoseed tomato, with "software", the Zeneca-University of Nottingham gene-isolation technology, said Mark Stowers, vice president of the worldwide marketing for Seminis.

  "We're pleased with the results of this initial project and we look forward to collaboration on more successful products for the future", Stower added.

  The new varieties, named Vegadura and Vegaspeso, have been evaluated extensively in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture and found to be safe and "substantially equivalent" to traditional tomatoes in all areas, including nutrition. Subsequently, the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom also approved the processing tomato hybrids for introduction to their markets.

  The products will be cleared for sale in Europe pending approval under the Novel Food and Novel Food Ingredients Regulation, a necessary process for products developed through biotechnology and planned for sale in the European market, according to Zeneca officials.

Note for editors:

  Seminis, based in Saticoy, California, is the world's largest developer and producer of vegetable seed. Seminis markets products in 123 countries through its Asgrow, Bruinsma, California, Genecorp, Petoseed and Royal Sluis brands.

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