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ARTICLE: The Future of GMO Food

The following is an article published in Scientific American that highlights some of the future breakthroughs in GMO technology. 

The recent announcement that a genetically modified (GM) salmon had reached Canadian consumers was a rare leap forwards for GM foods. More than two decades after the commercialization of GM plants, this is the first GM animal to reach the market.

The fast-growing salmon can reach market size in 18 months, roughly half the time its non-genetically modified counterpart, and requires less feed. This could bring both business and environmental benefits, and the approval may pave the way for other GM animals.

Scientists are working on disease-resistant pigs, bird-flu resistant chickens, hornless dairy cows and highly productive sheep. But don’t expect to be eating genetically modified lamb this Passover; the history of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has shown that it takes many years to bring a new technology to market (25 in the case of AquAdvantage salmon) and plenty of innovations never make it.

The many research programs developing genetically modified plants and animals have seldom made it to fruition, and the market is dominated by a few types of modification in a small number of crops.

In 2016, 185 million hectares of land were planted with biotech crops, and the vast majority consisted of soybean, maize, cotton and canola. Almost all of this area, over 99 percent, contained crops resistant to herbicides, insects, or both.

In the last few years we have seen a rapid expansion in crops with “stacked traits” that have genes for resistance to both herbicides and insects, and in the near future this is the direction that GM agriculture will no doubt be heading in.

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