With a new generation of genetically-altered foods, manufacturers are still trying to gain public acceptance by stealth. If they are sure of their product, they should convince people to buy it, not sneak it into the food chain.
This week, Minnesota biotech firm Calyxt announced the first commercial gene-edited product on the US market – a soybean oil “for frying and salad dressing, as well as sauce applications.”
It boasts that the oil contains less saturated fatty acids, no trans fats, and can keep three times as long without going rancid.
But from the Associated Press article that served as a virtual press release, one part jumps out: “Calyxt said it can’t reveal its first customer for competitive reasons, but CEO Jim Blome said the oil is ‘in use and being eaten.’”
That’s one way to launch a product.
Imagine if instead of showcasing their new car at a launch, Tesla said instead that someone was already driving an unmarked model, perhaps without knowing they were doing so. After all, the location where the oil is being used, “a restaurant somewhere in the Midwest,” doesn’t have to inform their customers about bioengineered foods.
Of course, it is possible that Calyxt is trying to keep competitors away from the scent of its healthy-formula fried cheese curds, much as it is unusual to hide a product that is supposedly commercially-available.
Yet the suspicion remains that the precaution is aimed at placard-waving protesters and more importantly, paying customers who might be alarmed at taking part in what effectively constitutes a post-launch trial.
This might seem like paranoia, but there are other signs of reticence from Calyxt. In its actual press release, where it said that its oil will also be sold as a “premium feed ingredient with added benefit for livestock,” it mentions on three separate occasions that its soybean oil is “non-GMO.”
So, according to the company, injecting DNA (as in the previous generation of altered crops) is “eww GMO,” but manipulating the structure of existing DNA (which is what gene editing is) in a laboratory to produce variations of plants that would never naturally evolve is completely different, and don’t you dare get the two confused.
Calyxt is not alone. Agricultural corporations have repeatedly insisted that genetic editing is a separate technology, using the argument to bypass European Union restrictions on genetically-modified foods.