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GMO Regulation Timeline


  • Biochemist Herbert Boyer and geneticist Stanley Cohen produce the first successful recombinant DNA organism, an E. coli cell that expresses frog ribosomal DNA.


  • Biologist Rudolf Jaenisch creates the first genetically modified (GM) animal, a transgenic mouse, by introducing foreign DNA into a mouse embryo.


  • Monsanto patents the herbicide, Roundup.


  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the first genetically engineered drug Humulin, a form of human insulin produced by recombinant E. coli bacteria. Prior to the development of synthesized human insulin, patients were dependent on animal insulin, which was more costly, less accessible, and sometimes caused infection. Humulin is identical in structure to human insulin.


  • The first transgenic plant, a tobacco plant resistant to antibiotics, is created at Washington University in Missouri, USA.


  • The first field tests of genetically engineered (tobacco) plants are conducted in Belgium.


  • The first field tests of genetically engineered (tobacco and tomato) crops are conducted in the United States.


  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture approves the "Flavr Savr" tomato strain, intended to be resistant to softening and consequent rotting, as the first genetically engineered food to be granted a license for human consumption. Production ceased in 1997 due to poor crop yields and high mounting costs.

  • The FDA declares that genetically engineered foods are “not inherently dangerous” and do not require special safety testing or specific regulations. This is because they align more with the category of “whole foods”, which the FDA does not oversee, rather than “food products.”


  • The European Union’s first genetically engineered crop, tobacco, is approved for use in France.


  • FlavrSavr tomatoes are taken off the U.S. food market due to increased competition from longer-lasting, conventional varieties.

  • Requirements for labeling of novel foods and ingredients, those that have not been used for human consumption in the EU, are outlined. The labels are required to include characteristics and materials which may affect the health of some individuals and materials that give rise to ethical concerns.

  • After the delivery of unlabelled genetically engineered soybeans from U.S. to European ports, Greenpeace led protests in front of multinational food companies across Europe. As media attention intensifies, Austria and Italy refuse imports of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and France suspends all GMO imports until regulatory legislation can be reviewed.

  • The FDA Modernization Act is signed and streamlines the FDA’s procedures relating to the regulation of food, drugs, devices and biological products. Critics fear that the legislation will encourage more crop deregulation.


  • Monsanto introduces Roundup-ready corn and canola which supposedly increase crop yields over conventional varieties. (Twenty years later, studies show that this claim is unsupported.)


  • Mounting environmental and health concerns surrounding GM crops in Europe leads big food manufacturers to commit to removing all GM ingredients in EU food products. Major food chains in England including Sainsbury, Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Burger King, and McDonalds also announce their intention to avoid all GM ingredients.


  • The EU adopts regulations stipulating that even additives and flavoring must be specifically labeled if DNA or protein of GMO origin is present in the final product.

  • Several countries pass laws requiring GM food labels: Australia, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, and Russia pass laws requiring labels for GM foods.

  • The FDA announces that the labeling of GM foods would remain voluntary in the U.S., but also publishes guidelines for companies that wish to label their products as "free of genetic modification". The U.S. Department of Agriculture also promises to develop standardized tests for GM foods.


  • Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan follow suit and also pass laws requiring special labels for GM foods.


  • GloFish, a GM fluorescent fish first developed in 1999, is introduced to the U.S. market after being made available in Taiwan earlier in 2003. This product is banned in California due to a regulation that bans all GM fish. They are also banned in Canada and within the EU. However, since their introduction, there have been no reports of any ecological concerns associated with their sale.

  • Greenpeace praises the EU for adopting the world’s strictest and most comprehensive rules on GMOs. The new system requires that all genetically engineered ingredients – from consumer products to animal feed – be traced and labeled.


  • Mendocino County in California is the first jurisdiction to ban the cultivation, production and distribution of GMOs in the U.S. By this point, 14 states (including California) have proposed requiring the labeling of GM foods.

1998 - 2004

  • The EU imposes an unofficial ban on GMO-based products, refusing to engage in experimental or commercial growth of new GM crops and to import GM food products. The World Trade Organization will rule if this unofficial ban impacted trade in a major way.


  • The FDA receives an application for the first genetically modified animal for human consumption. The AquAdvantage Salmon, created by AquaBounty Technologies, has a gene from the ocean pout and a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon, which allows it to “reach market size twice as fast as a traditional salmon”. The FDA determines more research is necessary to assess the safety of genetically engineered animals intended for human consumption.


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