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A GMO That's Made for Social Media

On October 13, 2020, fruit giant Del Monte Fresh released the Pinkglow Pineapple, a fruit that is genetically modified to […]

A GMO That's Made for Social Media

On October 13, 2020, fruit giant Del Monte Fresh released the Pinkglow Pineapple, a fruit that is genetically modified to […]

On October 13, 2020, fruit giant Del Monte Fresh released the Pinkglow Pineapple, a fruit that is genetically modified to produce pink flesh. With price points from $29-39 depending on your location, the Pinkglow is beyond many consumers' reach — and reason. That appears to suit Del Monte just fine. It is marketed and sold for its exclusivity and social media potential.

Why is this pineapple pink?

Pineapples naturally turn yellow as they ripen because of an enzyme that tells the pineapple to produce beta-carotene. In the Pinkglow Pineapple, the genetic material is modified so that the enzymes that make the flesh yellow are suppressed, resulting in a pinkish pigment.

In 2020, late night host Jimmy Kimmel used a Pinkglow Pineapple as part of his monologue. He pointedly displayed the accompanying Certificate of Authenticity, unfurled like a diploma.  Kimmel completed the bit with a taste test and helpful review (“You know what this tastes like? Pineapple.”)

It's not surprising that the Pinkglow would earn a mention on late-night TV. It is new, and it is odd. Before slicing the fruit, Kimmel pointedly displayed the accompanying Certificate of Authenticity, which unfurls like a diploma. After watching Kimmel's segment, it seemed "Why is it pink?" was perhaps the wrong question. A better one might be, why would someone make it pink? What was the reason behind this product?

The answer is social media.

A GMO ripe for Instagram

Del Monte began work on the pink pineapple more than sixteen years ago. Already a dominant force in the fresh fruit industry, they were looking for "a niche product that could expand the market for pineapple." The rest of the world's pineapples are yellow-fleshed — including the millions already grown and sold by Del Monte each year. In developing the Pinkglow, Del Monte is wagering that at least some of its customers are willing to pay 5-10 times the price for the novelty of an unusual pineapple.

The Pinkglow's selling point is as an accessory on social media. A recent pineapple giveaway required entrants to like photos of the #PinkglowPineapple on Instagram and tag three friends in the comments. The product's website encourages you to "become the envy of your friends and followers with this highly sought-after delicacy. Pinkglow™ will look phenomenal on whatever social media platform is en vogue by the time you read this."

The kind of fruit we don't need right now

The world into which the Pinkglow arrived was very different from the one in which it was conceived. Remember, the gestation period was sixteen years. During the product launch, Food & Wine credited the Pinkglow's inventors with a kind of prescience: "It’s like Del Monte knew 2020 would be the year nothing needs to make sense."  

At the Non-GMO Project, we take food seriously — food access is serious and healthy and equitable food access is even more so. Introducing a prohibitively expensive and exclusive product at a time when food insecurity doubled in a single year is many things, but it is not a sign of prescience.

Of course, food should bring joy! But the elitism of the Pinkglow and the sheer waste involved is troubling. Beyond the cost of a single pineapple, years and fortunes were spent developing it. Making GMOs isn't easy. It takes tenacity and fancy footwork to force an organism to accept our crude interventions. A good portion of those sixteen years was nature, resisting.

Recognizing how much went into engineering the Pinkglow, it's worth remembering that every human action is ultimately bound, to some degree, by limited resources. Whether that limit is what's in our bank accounts or kitchen cupboards, how we spend our talents or the tasks that fill our lives — these things are all resources, and they are precious. Then there is the cosmic bottom line, which applies even to the world's powerful corporations: that time cannot be reclaimed, that the Earth can only produce so much to sustain her many inhabitants. The choices we make matter because so much depends upon them. 

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