If you’re concerned about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in your food, brace yourself. A number of GM crops and animals currently sit somewhere along the US government’s research and approval process, meaning new GMOs could be coming to a store near you in the coming months. Since no laws require companies to label them, you might not even know when they show up in stores.
Many of the concerns surrounding GM crops are the unintended and unmeasured consequences of altering, inserting, and/or removing one enzyme or protein. There are also major concerns regarding the impacts these engineered varieties can have on existing species and biodiversity. The issues that engineered species aim to “fix” are often linked to poor resource management and could be addressed by an increased focus on sustainable practices and better management.
Status: Approved by the USDA and FDA in 2015. The FDA announced a ban on the import and sale of GM salmon until the agency can publish guidelines on how it should be labeled—a process that could take years. (Editor's Note: In April 2019, the FDA lifted the ban on importing GM salmon into the US. This decision was made after the USDA agreed in 2018 to place labeling on bioengineered salmon.)
Type of GMO: Atlantic Salmon engineered with a growth-hormone-regulating gene from a Pacific Chinook salmon and a growth promoter from an ocean pout to make it grow to a larger size at a faster rate.
Who is behind it: AquaBounty Technologies
Concerns: GE salmon are farmed and bred so that all the females are sterile. But should any females develop the ability to breed and escape into the wild, this could have major impacts on wild salmon and ocean biodiversity.
So far, hundreds of retailers, including Costco, Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, H-E-B, Meijer, Hy-Vee, Marsh, Giant Eagle, Safeway, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Kroger have committed not to buy GE salmon. See the full list here.
Status: Deregulated by the USDA and approved by the FDA in 2015. Headed for field trials in 2016. (Editor's Note: Arctic Apples first appeared in grocery stores in the Midwest in 2017, and advocacy organizations have noted that the GMO labeling is limited.)
Type of GMO: The apples are engineered to be non-browning.
Who is behind it: Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Inc.
Concerns: The natural enzyme that causes apples to brown also helps fight diseases and pests, so Arctic apples may require increased pesticides.
These apples have not yet entered the marketplace, but when they do, they are likely to be sold in fast-food restaurants and prepared-food products.
Some companies, such as Gerber, have stated that they do not intend to purchase the Arctic Apple.
Status: In development.
Type of GMO: Engineered to resist citrus greening, a disease that is affecting the Florida orange crop.
Who is behind it: Southern Gardens.
Concerns: The rapid spread of citrus greening is a result of monoculture and unsustainable growing practices. The introduction of GE oranges would only delay the disease’s spread while putting the trees at risk to other diseases. A better strategy would be to increase the biodiversity of the orange plantations. Like any new GE crop, GE orange trees pose a risk to biodiversity, particularly since fruit seeds are easily moved by birds and other animals.
Status: In development. (Editor's Note: In 2018, the FDA approved golden rice for US markets, but it has yet to reach stores.)
Type of GMO: Engineered to be dense in beta-carotene (Vitamin A).
Who is behind it: International Rice Research Institute/ Golden Rice Humanitarian Board/ Syngenta.
Concerns: Golden Rice has been in development for over 15 years and has yet to be approved or commercialized. Golden rice is often cited by the industry as an example of why GMOs are needed to feed the world. But this is a fiction. Golden rice is not delivering on its promise of vitamin-A enrichment. There have been a number of problems with its development, including the amount of rice that someone would actually have to consume to receive nutritional benefits from it.
This GM crop is aimed to aid developing nations where Vitamin A deficiency often results in childhood blindness. This problem is rooted in poverty and an imbalanced diet, and resources could be better used to alleviate poverty, improving supply chains and food access.
Status: In field trials.
Type of GMO: Eucalyptus, poplars, and loblolly pines are being engineered
for industrial purposes and to have traits that would tolerate colder temperatures and include “terminator” technology, meaning they would be sterile.
Who is behind it: ArborGen.
Concerns: In 2009, the USDA approved field trials for GE eucalyptus tree and had previously approved other field trials. ArborGen has applied to commercialize its eucalyptus trees, and the USDA is considering the environmental impacts as eucalyptus trees are not native to the US and are considered an invasive species. Eucalyptus trees require a heavy amount of water and burn very easily, both concerns considering the severe drought across the US and rising temperatures due to climate change. Here, too, biodiversity would be the better strategy.
Status: Approved for commercial planting by USDA in 2014 and approved by the FDA in 2015.
Type of GMO: Potato engineered to produce less acrylamide, a compound suspected of causing cancer, which is released when potatoes are fried.
Who is behind it: J.R. Simplot.
Concerns: J.R. Simplot is a major provider for fast food chains, including McDonald’s. The Innate potato is most suited for high-temperature frying, such as for French fries and hash browns. While McDonald’s and a few other fast-food chains have vowed not to use it, to avoid this potato, it is best to purchase organic whole potatoes and organic or Non-GMO-Project-verified potato products.
Zucchini and Crookneck Squash
Status: Commercialized in 1995.
Type of GMO: Engineered to protect against disease.
Who is behind it: Monsanto.
Concerns: There is a very small amount of GE squash and zucchini being grown in the US. But due to the lack of GMO labeling, the only way to avoid purchasing GM zucchini and squash is to buy organic.
Status: In development
Type of GMO: Research is focused on developing varieties of wheat engineered to be resistant to pesticides such as glyphosate, dicamba, and 2,4-D.
Who is behind it: Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, and others.
Concerns: If GE wheat enters the marketplace, it will be close to impossible to prevent it from contaminating the entire supply chain. GE wheat will likely be included in many processed foods and will be hard to avoid. The best way to avoid purchasing it will be to buy organic or Non-GMO-Project-verified ingredients and products.
GMOs focused on pest- and weed-resistance have started to fail, as the pests are adapting to GMOs and related chemicals, evolving into superbugs and superweeds
—Anna Meyer is Green America’s food campaigns coordinator.
For more information on GMOs, visit Green America’s GMO Inside campaign, GMOInside.org, and read our Green American article, “GMOs & the Case for Precaution".