Per an April 13, 2016 letter to developers, the USDA has effectively cleared a genetically modified mushroom. The altered fungi, Agaricus bisporus – a common white button mushroom – now promises a longer shelflife and, according to its developers at Pennsylvania State University, could “prevent tons of food waste, while saving time and effort.”

The gene-altering technique, CRISPR, deactivated a gene that causes the mushroom to turn brown after being cut and left exposed to air. CRISPR has, in certain respects, altered the argument about genetic modification. In most cases, genetically modified (GM) crops have had foreign DNA inserted, and concerns have centered around the potential impact if those genes made their way into other plants or animals or otherwise harmed the environment. CRISPR, on the other hand, does not introduce any genetic material and simply modifies preexisting genes.

58% of Americans who purchase foods with free-from claims rank GMO-free in the top five claims they seek

In the process, however, the practice is demonstrating the speed of advancements in the genetic modification arena, while also providing a serious challenge to regulatory agencies. At present, judging by the USDA’s response to the altered button mushroom, CRISPR-modified items do not appear to fall under any federal regulator’s purview, and therefore, no authority actually bears responsibility for assessing whether the products could pose a health or environmental threat.

At the very least, we know that consumers want to know if foods have GM ingredients and significant numbers indicate that they do seek GMO-free claims on foods they purchase: 58% of respondents who purchase foods with free-from claims rank GMO-free in the top five claims they seek. Among all consumers, 52% of Millennials indicate they purchase GMO-free foods for their household, compared with 28% of Baby Boomers seeking the claim on foods they purchase.

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