Ready for super salmon in your supermarket? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is deciding whether to approve the sale of genetically modified salmon for humans to eat.
The biotech company AquaBounty created an Atlantic Salmon that grows twice as fast as the normal kind. Genes borrowed from Chinook salmon and ocean pout make these salmon produce growth hormones year round instead of just in the summer. The result is a super fish that grows to market size in 18 months instead of the usual 3 years.
FDA officials agree the genetically modified fish is safe to eat. But an advisory panel recommends more testing before the fish is approved as people food.
Critics worry the freakish "Frankenfish" could spark new food allergies. Environmentalists fear mutant fish could escape into the wild. They are afraid?GM fish might contaminate natural species or crowd them out of their habitats.
If the salmon is given FDA approval, it'll be the first time the government has permitted the sale of genetically modified animals for human consumption. That could open the way to other genetically engineered meats, like pigs that produce heart-healthy bacon.
A federal judge stopped the planting of genetically altered sugar beets. The biotech beets were modified by the Monsanto Company to resist its Roundup weed killer. They are planted on more than 1 million acres in 10 states and provide more than 95 percent of the current sugar beet crop in the U.S.
Additional plantings aren?t allowed until the US Dept of Agriculture submits an environmental impact statement that reviews the effect of the engineered beets on other food crops. Organic farmers and food safety groups contend the altered sugar beets could share their genes with regularly grown chard and table beets.
Genetically "engineered" or genetically "modified" - popularly known as "GM" food or GM organism (GMO) -?has been around since the early 1990's, not only in the US but all over the world. You may not like it, and you may not even know it, but there's a good chance that you've eaten it and it's probably in your pantry or kitchen cupboard right now.
What and Where Is It?
As you can tell from the name "genetically modified," there's a lot of science involved with GM food. In simple terms, though, GM food is something that's been changed or altered at the genetic level to make it "better." In the US, the main GM foods are crops, such as corn, cotton, and soybeans. Again, in simple terms, seeds for these crops are?changed genetically to?be more nutritious or, most commonly, more resistant to one or more of the following:
- Insecticides (bug killers)
- Herbicides (weed killers)
Right now, we don't eat genetically altered animals or fish. However, even though that steak or gallon or milk in your refrigerator didn't come from a genetically altered cow, the cow probably ate genetically altered grain or feed.
Unlike Australia, the European Union, and other countries around the world, the US doesn't have many laws about GM food. In particular, there's no law in the US requiring food manufacturers to label?GM food so consumers like us know what we're buying. That's mainly because in 1992, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that GM food is pretty much the same as other food and so there's no need for special testing or labeling.
That's not to say there's no US regulation of GM food at all, though. For instance, the:
- FDA works to make sure all food is safe for us to eat, including GM food
- US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates pesticides or toxins to keep our air, water, and soil free from pesticides or toxins, works to make sure those who grow GM pesticide- and herbicide-resistant crops don't harm the environment
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) works to make sure drought- and disease-tolerant crops, crops grown for animal feeds, and whole grains, fruits, vegetables for us are grown and used safely
There are pros and cons to GM food, and each side has good points. For example, those in favor of GM food argue:
GM food helps, and may eventually solve, foot shortages around the world
- Herbicide- and pesticide-resistant crops lessen the need for farmers to use more of those chemicals to protect the plants, which helps the environment and makes the food healthier
- The increased nutritional value in some GM foods may solve malnutrition problems around the world
The critics argue, however:
- There's not enough regulation and oversight, especially in the US, and so there may be unknown and unexpected health hazards for people who eat these foods
- Crops and plants may eventually become resistant to pesticides and herbicides requiring the use of more and different chemicals
- Herbicide resistant crops may cross-breed with weeds, making the weeds resistant to herbicides as well, lowering crop yields and perhaps requiring the use of more and different weed killers
- Herbicide- and pesticide-resistant crops may endanger or kill beneficial insects and other organisms, like bees and butterflies, which are needed to pollinate our plants
What You Can Do
Here are some things you can do right now to avoid buying and eating GM food:
- Buy organic foods. If it says "100% Organic" or something similar, it can't contain genetically altered food or ingredients
- Look for "GMO Free" or "No GM" on the label. Some food manufacturers know that some of us don't want GM food products, so they voluntarily label their foods to show you they're not GM
- Stay away from corn, soy, cottonseed, canola, and sugar beets. The odds are, anything containing these things is a GM item
- Check the PLU Code on the fruits and vegetables you're buying. This is five digit number and bar code you usually see on a sticker on the item. If PLU begins with "8," it's GM food. If it begins with "9," it's organic. If it has only four digits, then it was grown the same way fruits and vegetables have been grown for decades. (Four digits really means there are five, but the first is "0," which is dropped when the PLU is printed)
If you don't have a problem with GM food, then shop away and enjoy! If you don't think it's good for you and your family, it's up to you to watch what you put into your shopping cart.