Is Genetically Engineered Food the Food of the Future?

By John McQuaid, "Is This the Food of the Future?," March/April 2011

Super salmon, enviropigs, blemish-free apples—What does the new wave of genetically engineered foods mean for our health and our planet?

Without it, we’ll all have to make a greater effort to educate ourselves about where our fish (or other meat) comes from and how it was produced. We appear to be rushing boldly forward with GE salmon with only a sketchy idea of the potential impacts, especially on already-beleaguered aquatic environments. There are other long-term imponderables as well: farmed salmon are significantly lower than their wild brethren in omega-3 fatty acids, meaning a large-scale shift is already under way toward less-­nutritious seafood. The reason for the deficit is the farmed salmon’s limited diet, which is a problem in itself. Farmed salmon consume a lot of fishmeal and fish oil, which is putting perhaps unsustainable pressures on the fish populations used to make them. Salmon that grow twice as fast will mean more production, requiring more fish food to sustain them.

This revolution, with its gene-spliced fish, may be the innovation that, one way or another, finally kills off the low-tech, hunter-gatherer approach of wild fishing. It will also place the “fish farmers” in the same boat, so to speak, as so many of the early adopters of GE crops: beholden to one very powerful company to continually provide the seeds (or in this case, the eggs) their livelihood depends on.

Fish are the last wild animals we still hunt and eat en masse today. Tomorrow, they may be the first animals we create and eat.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John McQuaid writes frequently on environmental issues.

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