Video showing genetically modified tomato ‘swimming’ is fake

12 September 2023
What was claimed

Videos show a genetically modified slice of tomato and piece of wheat swimming in salt water.

Our verdict

The videos have been edited.

A video on Facebook claiming to show a slice of genetically modified tomato ‘swimming’ in salt water due to a “fish gene effect” has been shared thousands of times.

Some versions of the video feature a second clip showing genetically modified wheat doing something similar. The clip of wheat is also circulating as a separate video too.

The caption of one post says: “Here is a way to test your fruit and veggies, if they are gmo. GMO plants swim on their own in salt water!”

Genetically modified plants don’t ‘swim’ in salt water. The videos originate from a YouTube channel called ViralVideoLab that publishes clips edited with CGI. The channel’s about page says it features “videos that seem too impossible to be real” and that they “may contain CGI effects”.

Full Fact has contacted ViralVideoLab and will update this piece if they respond.

The video of the tomato from that account is on YouTube with the title “Watch GMO Tomato Swim in Saltwater - The Fish Gene Effect Exposed!”

In this higher quality version it is easier to see that the video has been edited to make it look like the piece of tomato is moving in an unnatural way. For example, there are no ripples in the water when the piece of tomato moves and a piece of negative space in the tomato flesh, revealing the bowl beneath, stays exactly the same shade as it ‘swims’ around suggesting it comes from a still image.

The wheat video was also published by the same channel. The channel also features a video that appears to show some pepper “swimming” on a plate of salad.

The channel’s most popular video is one with over eight million views, which is a clearly edited clip of a supposed explosion on the moon.

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What is a GMO?

Genetically modified organisms are animals and plants that have had their genes altered artificially, usually to give them specific characteristics, like resistance to pests or to slow down the softening of their fruit.

Genetically modified foods are not new to the UK market. Food labels have to say if they consist of or contain GMOs or contain ingredients produced from GMO (although not when they were produced with the help of genetically modified technology or fed genetically modified feed).

These labelling rules don’t apply to produce made using precision breeding, where animals or plants have been bred to have certain traits through traditional breeding techniques or modern biotechnology efforts like gene editing to get the same results. Precision breeding and gene editing aren’t the same as genetically modified organisms which have had DNA from other organisms inserted into their genetic make-up—which still has to be labelled. 

Why the mention of a fish gene?

This may be a reference to a long-running rumour that tomatoes have been genetically modified to include a gene from a type of arctic fish that codes for a protein that stops its blood freezing, in an attempt to make the crop resilient to frost.

While it’s true that a company called DNA Plant Technology did insert the fish gene into a tomato in the early 1990s, the product never made it to market.

We have previously checked false claims that a pesticide used to grow potatoes used for McDonald’s fries means they need to be ‘off-gassed’ in sheds for weeks after being harvested and a false theory that a new protective coating for fruit and vegetables is dangerous to human health. False claims like this can cause unnecessary alarm and uncertainty on what is safe to consume. 

Image courtesy of Engin Akyurt

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