Genetically modified foods have been a deep-seeded aspect of the global food supply since the 1990s. Genetic engineering involves introducing new characteristics into an organism via recombinant DNA technology. It’s a common practice when it comes to agriculture; most of the corn and soybeans found in U.S. markets are genetically modified in some way. Reasons for such modifications range from making crops resistant to certain pests or herbicides to producing microorganisms that aid in baking, brewing and cheese-making. GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are safe for human consumption as designated by the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association.
In recent months, however, the discussion over the safety and public awareness of such products has reached a fever pitch. In March, Whole Foods Market became the first U.S. retailer to require all genetically modified foods in its store to be labeled as such. The FDA does not require labeling of such products, although it is mandated in the European Union. Whole Foods plans to implement the label requirement in all of its U.S. and Canadian locations by 2018.
Genetically engineered animals appear to be the next frontier and, as of press time, the FDA is reviewing a genetically engineered salmon. Developed by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty, the salmon has the ability to reach maturity twice as fast as wild salmon. If approved, it will be the first genetically engineered animal authorized for human consumption. A few national supermarkets, including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, have already announced they would not offer the salmon if approved, though so far the FDA has found the fish to be as safe as wild salmon. Regardless of whether the salmon gets the okay, roughly 35 other species of genetically modified fish are in development.