On November 6, just one day after Washington State’s I-522 GMO labeling bill was narrowly defeated, USDA moved to deregulate two new GMO soybean varieties and a GMO apple genetically engineered to resist browning. Additionally, reports indicate that FDA may soon approve GMO salmon – the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption.

In approving Monsanto’s GMO soy, MON 87712, genetically engineered to produce higher yield by splicing in a light-sensitive gene from Arabidopsis thaliana or the mouse-ear cress plant, a common weed in Europe, USDA said in a Federal Register notice that it evaluated data submitted by Monsanto, an analysis of available scientific data, and public comments in determining that the GMO soybean is “unlikely to pose a plant pest risk” and is of “no significant impact.” At the same time, USDA recommended deregulating an herbicide-resistant GMO soybean made by BASF, plus a GMO apple genetically engineered to resist browning when sliced. The comment period for the BASF herbicide-resistant GMO soy and the GMO apple ended on December 10.

Monsanto also hopes to garner approval in 2014 of GMO corn, soy and cotton genetically engineered to be tolerant to applications of dicamba and 2,4-D (also known as Agent Orange), two potent and toxic synthetic herbicides that growers have had to resort to, as weed resistance to glyphosate, or “Roundup” has increased dramatically as a result of its overuse in GMO crop production.

In fact, GMO crops have increased overall pesticide use in the U.S. by 404 million pounds from 1996 through 2011, said Washington State University researcher Chuck Benbrook, Ph.D., in his 2012 study, “Impacts of Genetically Engineered Foods on Pesticide Use in the U.S. – the First 16 Years. According to USDA, glyphosate use alone increased by more than 6,500% from 1991 to 2010. Contrary to biotech’s claims that GMOs reduce the need for chemicals, overall pesticide use in 2011 was 20% higher on each acre planted to a GMO crop, compared to pesticide use on acres not planted to GMO crops, reported Benbrook.

The GMO apple, marketed under the “Arctic” brand by Okanagan Specialty Fruits in British Colombia, uses controversial technology originally developed in GMO potatoes to suppress the gene that turns apples brown when sliced. The GMO apple’s creator says browning has economic costs and that it has already engineered Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples, with Fuji and Gala varieties next in line. Opponents of the GMO apple say browning is a natural indicator of an aging piece of fruit, and along with organic growers are concerned about GMO contamination of orchards, both organic and non-GMO, while also fearing that negative consumer perception may lead to a decline in apple sales in general.

Independent studies have found risks associated with the technology used in GMO apples. While most existing GMOs are designed to make new proteins, reports Melody Meyer, VP of Policy and Industry Relations for UNFI and President of the Organic Trade Association, in her blog Organic Matters, GMO apples make dsRNA in order to alter the way genes are expressed. Recent research has shown that dsRNA can transfer from plants to humans and other animals through ingesting food or by inhaling dust from the plant or absorption through the skin, and while RNA is a normal component of all cells, in dsRNA form it can have effects that depend on the species and tissues exposed to it.

Additionally, recent reports indicate that FDA may approve GMO salmon before the end of the year or in early 2014. The AquAdvantage salmon, created by Massachusetts-based biotech firm Aqua Bounty, is genetically engineered with a Chinook salmon growth gene and an “antifreeze” gene from an eel-like fish called the ocean pout, which makes the fish grow twice as fast as naturally occurring salmon. Paving the way for the prospect of imminent approval in the U.S., in late November Canada became the first country to approve commercial production of genetically engineered salmon eggs, stating that a panel of independent transgenics and fish containment technology experts found no risk to the environment or human health when the eggs are produced in contained facilities. Canada has not yet approved GMO salmon for human consumption.

Aqua Bounty assures regulators the safety of its production system, which includes producing the GMO salmon eggs in containment facilities on Prince Edward Island in Canada and then shipping them to a facility in Panama for maturation and processing before shipping cut fillets to the U.S. and other markets that allow genetically engineered foods. However, opponents stress that GMO salmon could escape into nature and threaten native species, and that there may be higher risk of cancer and allergies associated with consumption of GMO salmon. Also, recent reports have documented troubles at Aqua Bounty’s facilities in Panama, including lack of legally required permits and inspections, including a wastewater discharge permit, “lost” GMO salmon, and routine, destructive flooding in the area of the facility.

Several major retailers, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Aldi and Target, have announced they will not sell the GMO salmon in their stores. Also, in November, U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Mark Begich (D-AK) co-sponsored a petition calling for the FDA not to approve the GMO salmon. To date, nearly 100,000 people in all 50 states have signed the petition.

But is it kosher? The Orthodox Union (OU) says GMO salmon is kosher, because it has fins and scales. However, eels, which lack scales, are not considered Kosher, creating a dilemma for observers who enjoy salmon lox with their bagels. “Creation of a part-fish, part-eel seems impermissible as a violation of the Torah’s prohibition to mix species,” says writer Lisa Kassner in the Jewish Journal. Natural Food Certifiers, is one of the few certifiers offering Organic, Kosher, and Non-GMO verification with its GMO Guard program, as well as Gluten Free and Vegan verification. NFC announced in April that it would not allow its “Apple K” logo to appear on products that contain GMOs, including the proposed GMO salmon.

AgriSystems continues to remind clients and consumers to make informed choices and let your voices be heard. If you prefer non-GMO ingredients, continue to look for and purchase currently available Certified Organic and/or Non-GMO verified products wherever possible.