A California ballot measure last fall to require labeling of genetically engineered foods was poorly drafted and, fortunately, failed at the polls. But we hoped the market would force transparency in the sale of genetically altered foods, and sure enough, it's beginning: This week Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and some other retailers announced they would not sell genetically engineered seafood in their stores.
AquaBounty Technology of Massachusetts won provisional approval by the Food and Drug Administration in December for its AquaAdvantage salmon. The fish carries a gene that makes it grow twice as fast as Atlantic salmon. The FDA will issue its final report on what would be the first genetically engineered fish sold in U.S. stores after the 60-day public comment window closes April 26. The FDA has not indicated that it would require the fish to be labeled.
But Whole Foods, which has more than 300 stores, announced Wednesday that it will require labels for all food containing genetically modified ingredients beginning 2018. So while Proposition 37 failed, the movement toward labeling is under way.
The National Academy of Sciences, World Health Organization and American Medical Association agree that no one has proved any risk from modified foods. But the products are relatively new, and the long-term effects of eating them hasn't been tested.
Farmers have been breeding desirable traits into plants and animals for centuries through splicing and breeding techniques. Scientists transfer one or more genes to about 90 percent of corn plants grown in the United States - which is one of the labeling challenges, since so many processed foods contain corn products.
Genetically engineered food is labeled in Europe and other parts of the world. It should be labeled in the United States. And it will, if consumers demand it.
Clearly Whole Foods is responding to consumer preferences. Other stores will need to demand labeling or else give up customers to stores that do.