While GMOs typically make a disproportionate splash in the media, the reality is that there are very few different types of GMO crops grown today in the U.S.
This is partly because of the massive time and expense that goes into researching, developing, and testing the kinds of food items that the public typically considers to be a GMO. We’re talking roughly five years and over $100 million, in many cases. That doesn’t even take into account the approval process of the government entities that are involved, which can add five to seven years onto getting the product to market.
C.A.P.S. is a common mnemonic device used to help people remember what high-tech genetically engineered products are currently available:
- Corn (field and sweet)
- Arctic apple
- Potato (Ranger Russet, Russet Burbank, and Atlantic potatoes, among others)
- Squash (Yellow Crookneck squash and some zucchini)
The first genetically engineered crop product ever to be commercialized was the Flavr Savr tomato, which was created by Calgene Inc. to slow the ripening process and thus maintain its shelf life longer. The Flavr Savr was first sold in 1994 but, because it lacked profitability, was discontinued in 1997. There has never been another genetically engineered tomato variety on the market.
Among the genetically engineered food products on the horizon are eggplant, salmon, melons, plums, rice, and sweet peppers. But even once these products are created in the private sector, there is a long governmental review process at the federal level. We can expect:
- The United States Department of Agriculture reviews GM plants to assess how or if they will impact the environment and whether they will be safe to grow.
- The United States Environmental Protection Agency conducts a mandatory review of GM plants that are insect or herbicide resistant to assess whether or not they will impact the environment. The EPA also regulates the use of all crop protection products
- The FDA conducts a review to assess if GM plants are safe to eat.
Beyond this, of course, there are many food items on store shelves — such as seedless watermelons, grape tomatoes, and baby carrots — that have been genetically modified through traditional breeding methods to improve taste, quality, and utility. These are rarely lumped in with “GMOs” in the public’s eye — that caveat is necessary because the federal government and the scientific community almost never use the term “GMO.” It is seen as imprecise and applied inconsistently since there are multiple methods that food can be modified (transgenesis, mutagenesis, and genome editing are a few ways). More often, scientists will use “genetically engineered” or “modern plant breeding” to describe today’s techniques and their results.