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Genetically engineered foods (a subcategory of "GMOs," or genetically modified organisms) are pervasive on the store shelves and in our agricultural supply. Most estimates suggest that between 60 percent and 70 percent of processed foods on American shelves include a genetically modified crop in their ingredients.

“Genetically engineered” foods and “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs) refer to crop plants and other organisms engineered for human or animal consumption using molecular biology techniques in the laboratory. The process of genetic engineering involves scientists taking one or more genes from an organism that carries a desired trait and inserting it into the DNA of the organism they want to alter.

Scientists have expressed concern about many health and environmental risks associated with genetically engineered foods. Environmental problems associated with genetic modification include biodiversity loss, an overall increase in pesticide use, the creation of “super weeds” that defy usual methods of control, and unintentional contamination of normal crops.
As more people are beginning to recognize these risks, there’s a rising demand for food that hasn’t been engineered food and for the clear labeling — for the consumer’s sake — of existing genetically engineered products being sold.

The threat of approval of “frankenfish” — genetically modified salmon — by the Food and Drug Administration is a cautionary tale in the making. AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon is created by combining salmon DNA with that of another fish species, the Arctic char; the salmon’s DNA is manipulated to achieve double its normal growth rate by causing the fish to produce abnormal growth hormones.

These genetically modified AquAdvantage fish could escape and interbreed with wild salmon, contaminating the gene pool of native salmon stocks. Many of the aquaculture techniques that farm fish in large, open-water pens can also contribute to the spread of sea lice in native migrating salmon species. The FDA has not undertaken a necessary, full “environmental impact assessment” of these dangers, which would outline all of the health and environmental risks and determine the safety of the AquAdvantage salmon.

Genetically engineered crops are being developed quickly and are used on millions of acres of farmland without adequate testing for possible long-term ecological impacts. Given their potential risks, many ecologists believe industry should increase the extent and rigor of its testing, and governments should strengthen their regulatory regimes to more fully address environmental effects. Currently, only 1 percent of USDA biotech research money goes to risk-assessment research [see National Geographic], but every genetically modified organism brings with it a different set of potential risks and benefits, and each one needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

In 2013 Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) sponsored new federal legislation, the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, that would require the labeling of all genetically engineered foods. It has strong public support but is facing a lot of resistance from the corporate agribusiness giants like Monsanto. It’s imperative that Congress approve the legislation that requires the labeling of genetically engineered foods, giving the American people the choice to know what is in the food they eat. The Center for Biological Diversity has long fought environmentally destructive — and public-health-threatening — GMOs, so stay tuned to hear about our latest actions and actions you can take to keep our country safe.


Photo courtesyFlickr