With a Paleo/Primal twist to low-carb dieting, I feel like I’ve largely sidestepped the GMO vs. non-GMO debate so far as a consumer because the majority of GMO products and ingredients show up directly in processed products and starchier vegetables foods I don’t normally purchase or eat. Although without any mandatory labeling requirements (and I actually do pay close attention to nutrition labels), it’s difficult to know for sure to what degree I’ve managed to successfully avoid GMO ingredients altogether.
However, I learned recently that the FDA is set to approve genetically engineered salmon soon and that most likely it will not be labeled as such. This new AquAdvantage salmon is “a breed of Atlantic salmon genetically modified to grow twice as fast as its natural counterparts.“ Approval would start an influx into the US market of other types of genetically modified meat currently in the R&D pipeline.
I would personally be reluctant to knowingly try genetically modified fish myself, and opt to take my chances on what evolution has already engineered in terms of genuine wild-caught salmon varieties. Eat Wild has a comprehensive list of resources to obtain such catches from local sources.
Of course, the best bet is to do research on where, how, and who raises the fish or anything else one consumes. Such knowledge effectively reduces one’s need for well regulated nutrition labels, which aren’t really that well regulated.
I used to think our food supply was tightly and independently regulated, but the more I read on this subject, the more skeptical I become. The most recent book I read on this subject, Pandora’s Lunch Box, discusses at length regulatory loopholes and gaps with food additives. It’s also a pretty entertaining read!
Our FDA (and USDA, and the other dozen or so agencies in which food safety is divvied among–read Food Politics for a good primer) effectively trusts those it oversees to self-regulate voluntarily, but food companies don’t see themselves as public health agencies. Nor should consumers expect food companies to act like health agencies. There’s also a long-standing revolving door between various food companies (including GMO firms) and regulatory agencies that such agencies are supposed to oversee. Long story short: given the lack of robust, independent regulation of our food supply in general and food industry self-regulation, I wouldn’t, as a consumer, put too much faith in FDA approval meaning that genetically engineered salmon is safe for human health or the environment.
However, my biggest beef with GMOs has to do with labeling and transparency. After all, there are many unregulated (and even harmful) food ingredients that people regularly consume, like hydrogenated vegetable oil (i.e. trans-fat), that people eat anyway. Most consumers don’t even bother to read a label. However, at least many of those questionable ingredients (again, Pandora’s Lunch Box is a good, recent read on this) are labeled so at least more conscientious consumers can legitimately make the decision of whether to avoid such products.
Just Label It
There would need to be mandatory labeling requirements if genetically modified salmon is approved for human consumption. Despite overwhelming support for such a measure in California recently, corporate lobbying and campaigning won out and there is still no requirement to require such labeling. In response to this and the FDA about to approve genetically modified salmon, Whole Foods and other grocers have voluntarily pledged to require such labeling in their stores but not until 2018. I guess that’s better than nothing.
Without mandatory labeling requirements, it would be difficult as a consumer to make a genuine decision at a conventional grocery store or restaurant on whether to consume GMOs or not. Independently of whether one is for or against GMOs, they should be clearly labeled as such. That way, those who are for GMOs can purchase such products themselves and support these businesses, and those who are against or unsure can do the opposite. Also, people nowadays seem to have increasingly more food allergies: if someone has, say, an allergy to fish but eats a tomato with a transgenic fish gene inserted, how would such people even know? With the abundance of novel ingredients that flood the dinner plates every year, would a transgenic gene introduce more allergens? How could that be known?
From a consumer interest standpoint, there’s no reason not to label GMOs. In fact, mandatory GMO labeling enjoys broad support from consumers both those for and against on this issue. At the very least, consumers can opt to be part of this mass experiment. Or not.
What are your thoughts on GMO labeling in general? And would you personally eat or order genetically modified salmon once FDA gives it the green light?