Whether consumers know it or not, a majority of the corn and soy consumed in the United States has been genetically modified.
And as soon as the Food & Drug Administration signs off on it, that technology will make its way to animals.
Case in point is AquaBounty Technologies, of Maynard, Mass., which aims to move its transgenic salmon from the lab to dinner plates around the country.
"The composition of the fish is identical to that of the traditional Atlantic salmon. The only gene we’ve changed is we’ve given it one extra copy of the growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon," explained CEO Ron Stotish during a recent interview in Philadelphia.
That extra hormone allows the fish to grow exponentially faster than another fish the same age
AquaBounty has been engineering the fish for more than a decade and are raising them at a facility in Panama. Stotish said the animals are all sterile females who are kept in secured containment tanks.
The FDA approved the technology two years ago but the government agency has yet to finalize a plan to allow farming and consumption in America.
That, according to Stotish, is a terrible mistake.
"The product is safe. It's safe for the fish. It's safe for the consumer and it's safe for the environment," he said, pointing to China, which has invested nearly one billion dollars in the last four years on transgenics.
Stotish said Chinese scientists are currently experimenting with more than 20 genetically engineered animals.
"I can assure you this is a technology that will be adopted. Because as the world reaches nine billion people, and as we exhaust our terrestrial and aquatic resources, the food system needs better efficiency and alternative production systems," he said.
Consumers in Chicago had mixed reactions.
"It sounds disgusting. It sounds like it's not natural," said Justine Erickson as she shopped for fresh salmon at Dirk's Fish on the city's northwest side.
"As long as the fish doesn't have three eyes and glow in the dark, I'd probably be OK with it," countered seafood lover John Knoerle.
And at least one expert said consumers may have little choice.
"There's no way out of this genetic manipulation of food. We're long past that decision," said Laura Zoloth with Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.
If the government signs off on the fish, there is no current federal law requiring restaurants and stores to tell you their product is genetically modified. The same circumstance currently applies to genetically engineered corn and soy.
A referendum on the ballot in California, if passed, would require specific labeling on foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. That could affect crop producers and food processors across the nation.