Products made possible through gene-editing have landed on grocery shelves. Whether they’ll stay there is up to shoppers wary of technological tinkering.
Food companies are now required to label GMOs in Vermont, and debate is raging over a federal standard. But so far, regulators at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have taken a pass on overseeing gene-edited crops. They say cutting DNA from a plant is not the same as adding genes from another organism. So corn injected with outside DNA is classified a genetically modified organism, but canola that can tolerate herbicide because scientists removed a gene is not.
Industry giants like Monsanto Co., DuPont and Dow Chemical Co. have stepped through the regulatory void. They’ve struck licensing deals with smaller companies for gene-editing technology. U.S. farmers harvested 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) last year of gene-edited canola processed into cooking oil marketed as non-GMO. Looming are U.S. consumers who’ve rejected GMO products despite a preponderance of evidence that they’re safe to grow and eat.
“There’s a feeling among consumers that they want their food as close as possible to what nature intended,” said Carl Jorgenson, director of wellness strategy at Daymon Worldwide, a retail marketing firm. “There’s an overall distrust of Big Food and Big Science.”