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A new ingredient is about to enter the global food supply in many of our favorite foods from ice cream to birthday cake. And like many of the products of genetic engineering, it won’t be carrying a label– instead it is being marketed as “natural”.
This ingredient, synthetic biology vanillin, has been created using synthetic biology (aka extreme genetic engineering) and Evolva®, the company producing this ingredient, together with the International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), plans to market its product as a food additive starting in 2014. Synthetic biology is an extreme form of genetic engineering, in which scientists write entirely new genetic code on a computer, “print” it out and then insert it into organisms to serve specific functions.
Recent polls found that as the public learns more about synthetic biology, people are increasingly concerned about its risks. One-third of respondents favored a complete ban on synthetic biology products until the risks and implications are better researched1. Despite marketing claims, this “vanillin” produced through synthetic biology is not environmentally sustainable or “natural”, and threatens the livelihoods of small, sustainable, natural vanilla farmers in rainforests around the world. Due to inadequate regulatory oversight and assessment of risks to human and environmental health, government scientists still know little about the safety of this product.