By Joanna Sax
On November 19, 2015, the FDA de-regulated the AquAdvantage Salmon. This salmon is genetically engineered to grow faster. This is the first time the FDA has de-regulated a genetically engineered animal.
Let me just say from the outset that the scientific consensus is clear that genetically engineered food is as safe as conventional food. Despite the onslaught of public outrage against GMO food, most of the main arguments against GMO food are just hype.
The genie came out of the bottle a long time ago and it’s not going back in. This happens time and again with scientific advances. Over the past few decades, our ability to understand, manipulate, edit, and otherwise employ the DNA of various organisms to facilitate human understanding has grown exponentially. Efforts to resist, combat, or villain-ize the application of biotechnology to impact society might delay, but will not ultimately succeed in keeping the application of scientific discoveries at bay.
On the heels of de-regulating the genetically-engineered salmon, the FDA issued a call for comments on a proposed guidance for voluntary food labeling. States are also considering or passing labeling laws. The labeling debate is a good example of the failure to fully understand the science of our commercial food supply, which is full of genetically modified food. Conventional breeders use various techniques to mutate DNA, including for example radiation, to obtain desired characteristics. What does a GMO-free label really tell a consumer? And, what does a GMO label tell consumers? It doesn’t tell consumers anything about safety. Perhaps consumers want to know about farming practices, commitment to the environment, or pesticide use – labeling food as non-GMO or GMO doesn’t tell consumers that information.
There are a lot of issues to be debated about the future of our food supply – including a robust discussion about whether GMOs can play an important role in solving pressing problems. But, these debates must be informed by our current scientific understanding and then centered on where and which studies are needed moving forward. Our regulatory policies must be guided by the science.