California was the first state to have genetically modified crops sold commercially, but it is also the state with the most organic farms.
Do you remember the Flavr Savr tomato? It was the first genetically engineered crop to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval 25 years ago.
The growth of genetically modified food has increased rapidly since 1994, but the Flavr Savr ended in commercial demise.
The Flavr Savr story begins in Davis, where researchers for Calgene, a biotech company, found a way to make the skin of a tomato more resistant to rot. Use of the Flavr Savr resulted in some tomato-based products being sold for 20 percent less.
The future looked bright for genetically modified food until a British study of genetically modified potatoes was published with much fanfare. The British study claimed that rats feeding on genetically modified potatoes experienced negative biological results.
After the report, several large supermarket chains announced they would not carry genetically modified foods. The conclusions in the British report were found to be incorrect, but the damage was done and the Flavr Savr did not make it back to market.
There are 13 types of foods that are biologically engineered and approved by the USDA. The chances of your tofu being genetically modified are pretty high. More than 90 percent of U.S. corn, upland cotton, soybeans (where tofu comes from), canola and sugar beets are produced using GE varieties.
Here are some current bioengineered foods in the U.S.:
The FDA approved the AquaAdvantage biologically engineered salmon in 2018. It is the only BE animal approved by the FDA and in Canada. Most of the traits that are engineered in the crop varieties are for insect resistance, drought tolerance and herbicide tolerance.
Genetically engineered acresSoybeans and corn in U.S., 1996-2018
Beginning in 2020, labeling for foods that are bioengineered will be gradually implemented. Some packaging will have scan codes for phones so consumers can find greater details about the bioengineered foods.
The standard for the bioengineering food label is that those foods that contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through certain lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature.
Organic on the rise
What’s the difference between genetically engineered, biologically engineered and genetically modified organisms?
Not much. All of those foods have been altered scientifically. GMO is not a scientific term but has become a catchphrase for anything altered in a lab.
Organic farms are a tiny percentage of the total acreage of farms in the U.S. but demand for their products is increasing.
As of 2016, organic farmland reached 5 million acres but is less than 1 percent of the total farmland (911 million acres) in the U.S. Here are the states with more than 100,000 acres of certified organic farming, as of 2016:
California has a million organic acres farmed, about four times more than the state with the second most. In California, 733,541 acres are used for pasture/rangeland and 336,409 acres are crops. Organic farmland in California accounted for about 4 percent of all acres.
According to the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board, organic food must be produced without the use of conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, sewage sludge-based fertilizers, herbicides, genetic engineering, antibiotics, growth hormones or irradiation.
Increasing sales in U.S.
Sales of organic products nearly doubled from 2011 to 2016.
Sales of organic products have increased 23 percent from 2015 to 2016. The areas with the biggest percentage increase in sales were in the South, where some of the least organic acreage is located.
Food for thought
Sources: USDA, gmoanswers.com, UC Davis, UCSF, California Farm Bureau Federation, Pew Research Center
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