How’d This Get on My Plate: Lunch

How’d This Get on My Plate: Lunch

Lunch: the meal that is your “little slice of heaven” during your work day; the meal many of our parents packed up for us during our school days; or, simply, the meal between breakfast and dinner. Our first installment in this series took a look at popular breakfast foods; now let’s consider what we think of as popular lunch items. A burger, a salad, sushi, soup? There are so many great dishes to enjoy. But do you give much thought to the food-production processes utilized for many popular lunch items?

Bioengineering, also known as genetic modification, is a food production process that has been used for decades, and the advances in this sector have been growing rapidly in the past few years. In the United States there are 11 commercially available genetically modified (or bioengineered) crops: soybeans, corn (both field and sweet varieties), canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, summer squash, papaya, apples and potatoes. While 11 is not a gigantic number, it is a good enough number to make an impact on the availability of many popular foods. Genetically modified (or GM) crops have safely and significantly increased crop yields and simultaneously decreased pesticide use. These two major benefits allow us to produce more food with less input and less waste. Decreased use of pesticides also means less pesticide-production demand and less energy use on the farmers’ end. Now let’s take a closer look at how two of these food innovations are pushing our lunch agendas forward.

One Spud To Rule Them All

Many of us may enjoy a nicely baked potato or French fries with our lunch. Packed with nutrients such as vitamin C, folate and potassium, white potatoes are a hugely consumed vegetable around the world. In an effort to produce potatoes that bruise less easily (a positive contribution to food waste) and that produce less acrylamide upon cooking (a positive food-safety attribute), food scientists successfully have used a genetic modification technology called RNA interference (or RNAi). This technology basically takes away the potatoes’ ability to express two different proteins by stopping the expression of the sections of DNA that would be used for the resultant protein production.

These potatoes are not transgenic crops that use DNA from other organisms—like the genes from a bacterium that makes Bt corn, soybeans and cotton. Instead, the genetically modified potatoes use only genetic material from other varieties of potatoes to yield the desired protein expression described above.

Catch of the Day

Another popular food that many of enjoy for lunch is salmon. This fish is also a hit at breakfast, brunch and dinner. But did you know that there is a genetically modified salmon that is the first animal (non-crop) to be approved for consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?

In the past two decades, researchers have been able to produce a genetically modified salmon that can grow to market size twice as quickly as its non-GM counterpart. This salmon contains a growth-hormone gene from the fast-growing Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter sequence (a fragment of DNA) from the ocean pout fish.

After 20 years of scientific work, approval was given in 2015 by the FDA to produce the salmon. Under the approval, these GM salmon were subject to strict conditions to prevent the possibility of escape of the salmon into the wild. According to the FDA, “the salmon could not be raised in ocean net pens: instead, the approval allowed for them to be grown only at two specific land-based facilities: one in Canada, where the breeding stock are kept, and [one in] Panama, where the fish for market will be grown out using eggs from the Canada facility.”

Fast forward to 2018, when the company producing the salmon established two commercial production facilities ready to commence salmon farming: one near Albany, Indiana and another in Rollo Bay, PEI, Canada were constructed. The approval of the Indiana facility was received from the FDA on April 26, 2018. However, the approval of the Canadian facility is still pending. If all goes according to plan, the first commercial harvests in Canada and the U.S. are scheduled to arrive in markets in 2020.

Lunch and Innovation Are Served

Food technology innovations such as genetically modified foods look to be bringing us more of the foods we love while also producing some positive food-waste, productivity and food-safety impacts. We’re intrigued and excited to see how scientific advances continue to impact positively our food system, and we’re thrilled to see what’s next on the horizon.