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?

Some in the aquaculture industry hope this will lead to an era of faster and more efficient fish production, making renewable (hence, they claim, more sustainable), omega-3-rich salmon even more widely available. Others—fishermen, health advocates and environmentalists—say that the new fish could pose threats to the environment and other fish and uncertainties for human health. One thing that both sides recognize: this is the likely beginning of a new era of foods from many different transgenic animals.

When and if this transgenic fish starts to appear in stores (perhaps as early as 2012, the company behind it, Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, hopes) it won’t be immediately obvious to the average shopper since at present there is no law requiring a genetically engineered food to be identified as such. The genetically engineered (GE) salmon looks exactly like ordinary farmed Atlantic salmon. But this salmon is the culmination of decades of genetic research: it can grow to maturity (13 pounds) in two years, eats less per pound than the existing farmed Atlantic salmon and the salmon eggs are designed to grow into sterile females, thus reducing the risk of cross-breeding with wild populations.

As science, this is very cool. But as its somewhat goofy trademarked brand name indicates, AquAdvantage salmon isn’t an experiment but a for-profit product. And its progress through the FDA’s mostly secret review process has reignited a political battle.

Next: A Transgenic Revolution »

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