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?

Who’s Minding the Store?

In the United States, the great genetic-engineering debate has thus far gotten only modest public attention. Alfalfa and sugar beets do not inspire great passion in the general public, but the prospect of millions of transgenic animals being raised, sold and eaten poses new public health and environmental questions. In a Thomson Reuters/NPR survey last October, 60 percent of respondents said they would eat genetically modified vegetables, fruits and grains, but only 38 percent were willing to eat meat and 35 percent fish.

With gene-spliced food coming from many more sources and making up an ever-larger proportion of our diets, concerns about risks to both the environment and human health may rise. Are we ready for this? It depends on the ability of the FDA to evaluate the science and make sound judgments about the risks. In this sense the AquAdvantage salmon is a good test case of what’s to come—and it doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence.

The United States has an elaborate legal structure set up to ensure the safety of the food production chain. It doesn’t always work well, but it’s there. Genetic engineering is a new technology, and substantively different from anything that’s come before. Yet the U.S. government has no specific laws spelling out how it should handle genetically engineered food.

Next: The FDA & GE Foods »

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