Although there are no requirements for labeling GMO varieties as such, Gale said seed breeders are adamant about identifying the varieties for their customers. At the retail level, GMO fruits and vegetables can be sold without identification as a genetically modified variety.
Technologies like marketer-assisted breeding are being used across the seed industry to better identify characteristics of varieties in development in a shorter time span.
“We’ve done a lot with molecular markers,” said Mimi Ricketts, communication director for Creve Coeur, Mo.-based Monsanto Co. “Marker-assisted breeding allows breeders to pinpoint traits, kind of like a landmark, within a plant, and understand their function.”
Because of biotechnology over the last 15 or so years, breeders are able to develop traits that impact those characteristics they’re looking for, said Andy LaVigne, president and chief executive officer of the American Seed Trade Association.
“Whether it’s deeper red in a tomato or yellow in a squash, you can breed to that specifically in a much shorter time,” LaVigne said.
Before this technology, seed breeders would have to watch a variety all the way through its lifecycle to learn about its traits. With biotechnology and marker-assisted breeding, breeders can develop new varieties in about one-third of the time, LaVigne said.
“It used to be plant and pray,” LaVigne said. “Today, we use processes that are computer and lab-based.”
LaVigne said the marketplace will see even more improvements in these technologies, and seed breeders will be even more capable of breeding for color and taste qualities.
“As the technology continues to improve, you’ll probably see a shorter window between the demand of the marketplace and how a seed company can provide for it.”