By in Science

Does Syngenta Have a Monopoly on Brown Tomatoes?

My friend Rachel Lovejoy recently wrote about her experience buying a type of brown tomato , called the Kumato . She describes them as juicy, sweeter than the average red tomato, and a little bit smoky in flavour. They sound really yummy!

I am very excited about food diversity, so I looked up the Kumato to learn more about it. I discovered they are a patented hybrid made by Syngenta , a biotech firm that competes with Monsanto and does produce genetically modified organisms (GMOs.) Syngenta claims that Kumatoes are not genetically modified ; but they are the result of a more sophisticated process of hybridization called “marker-assisted breeding,” and the seeds are only available to selected growers by invitation.

I have some rather mixed feelings about the Kumato tomato. On the one hand, I love that any company is working on preserving or improving our food diversity. Having lost about 75% of the world's food crops over the last century , we are very much in need of new cultivars. But I also have difficulty with the way Syngenta licenses and markets the tomato.

You cannot buy Kumato seeds for your own garden: only commercial growers selected and invited by Syngenta are allowed to grow these tomatoes, and then only under very rigid controls set by the biotech firm. You cannot save the seeds from a Kumato tomato , in order to grow them in your garden. Kumato is a hybrid whose seeds will not grow true to type – meaning you would grow tomatoes, but they wouldn't be the same as a Kumato. Judging from the way the company currently regulates the seed, it would seem there are no plans to carry Kumato to the point where it would be an open-pollinated plant.

The Kumato is aggressively marketed as if it were the only black/brown/purple tomato in the world. It is also marketed as “ Fair Trade ,” when only a select few can even access the seeds. Sure, there are no underpaid third-world growers. But that's only because nobody in the developing world can even get their hands on the seed.

Same thing goes for the Non-GMO Project certification , which is based mainly on the company's own claims and the fact that the tomatoes are considered low-risk. No laboratory testing was required to gain that certification, so it doesn't hold a lot of weight for me.

On the other hand, heirloom varieties of black tomato are available to the general public. Tomatoes like “Black From Tula,” “Black Cherry,” and “Black Krim” are often described using the very same language Rachel used in her article about Kumatoes.

I actually have seeds for some of the black cherry tomatoes, as well as for a variety of plum tomato called “Purple Russian.” I'm going to see if I can't get those to grow, instead of giving money to a biotech company.

This post is part of Dawnwriter 's A-W Category Challenge .

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Image credit: Kumato tomatoes by Achim Raschka/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)


Lauren Archer, “ Kumato Tomatoes, The New Heirloom ” (Gene Living)

Elizabeth Doherty, “ Non GMO Project Bombshell-They Did Not Test Syngenta’s Kumato-Audio ” (Food Nation Radio)

Kumato web site

Frequently Asked Questions ” (Sunset Produce)

Rachel Lovejoy, “ Brown Tomatoes ” (Bubblews)

Note: This content was migrated from Bubblews, where it was originally published

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acrogodess914 wrote on November 2, 2014, 11:36 PM

I don't think I would want to try them. They look a bit off to me

BarbRad wrote on November 3, 2014, 2:17 AM

We have grown Cherokee Purple here, and it has some of those same qualities.

Ruby3881 wrote on November 3, 2014, 4:41 AM

They're not off, Lissette! They're supposed to be that colour. There are lots of tomatoes that are brown, black or purple, and a lot of them look sort of like that inside.

Ruby3881 wrote on November 3, 2014, 4:43 AM

Yup, I've definitely seen that variety listed with similar qualities as the Kumato! I've never tried them myself, but they sound delicious. And I'd much rather grow an open-pollinated/heirloom crop, than pay for commercially grown food controlled by a biotech firm.

acrogodess914 wrote on November 3, 2014, 4:44 AM

Oh, I understand they're supposed to be that color, but they're GMO to be that color as opposed to being naturally that color. Not sure if I'm making sense. I'm a bit tired.

BarbRad wrote on November 3, 2014, 7:02 PM

Me, too.

Ruby3881 wrote on November 16, 2014, 3:06 AM

No, they're not GMO. They're biotech, but not of the same type as GMOs. And really, they're just a patented hybrid.

But I get that the whole idea of buying tomatoes from a biotech company - even indirectly - is off. It doesn't sit right with me ether.