(NaturalNews) A popular "green" cleaning product brand is quietly switching away from palm oil in its laundry detergent formula to an artificial oil produced using synthetic biology, or SynBio. Ecover, which owns the Method line of consumer products, recently announced that its so-called "natural" laundry detergent will soon contain an oil produced from genetically modified (GM) algae that have been reprogrammed with synthetic DNA.
The controversial technology is suddenly showing up in all sorts of consumer products -- and soon to be in food [PDF]. But its appearance in products marketed as "natural," which includes both Ecover and Method brands, is not only disingenuous but also flat-out dishonest. And the ETC Group and others are demanding answers.
"We do not believe that engineered algae fed on sugarcane are a 'green,' 'ecological' or 'sustainable' solution to the problems of palm oil use," reads an open letter to Ecover signed by the ETC Group, GM Watch and others. "While we share your concerns about the forest destruction associated with palm oil (in this case palm kernel oil), we do not regard a switch to Brazilian sugarcane feedstock to be the solution."
Back on April 2, Ecover issued a public announcement about the switch from palm kernel oil to an algal oil produced by California-based Solazyme Inc., citing deforestation and other alleged environmental problems associated with palm production that necessitated the switch. Ecover explained that the new oil would be derived from fermented sugar cane, suggesting that the process is natural and in line with the company's core values.
Synthetic DNA combined with GM algae equals 'natural' oil for Ecover
What Ecover failed to mention in its announcement, however, is how the algal oil is produced. After sequencing man-made DNA on a computer, the synthetic code is injected into the algae and fermented with the sugarcane to produce oil. The entire process is anything but natural, in other words, and ironically enough, it requires the vast clearing of land for sugarcane production.
Ecover's Tom Domen, who manages the company's long-term innovation goals, told The New York Times (NYT) that palm oil is unsustainable and "difficult" to find. His inference, of course, is that the new algal oil is sustainable. But truth be told, fragile ecosystems throughout Brazil, where the sugarcane for the algal oil is being grown, are also being harmed by the new oil's production.
"[S]ugarcane production on Brazil's fragile Cerrado eco-region is associated with significant biodiversity loss and CO2 emissions from both land use change and burning of the bagasse, as well as poor working conditions that can resemble slave-labour practices," adds the open letter to Ecover.
"The rapid expansion of land devoted to growing sugarcane in Brazil is moving back the agricultural frontier, driving forest destruction into the Amazon."
If Ecover is so concerned about protecting the environment that it is willing to make a massive switch to a completely new oil, then it could have chosen a similar and much more sustainable oil such as coconut, which is grown all around the world by small farmers. There are even certified palm oil plantations that adhere to proper stewardship standards that Ecover could have chosen over GMO algal oil.
"We are surprised that Ecover and Method's decision-makers believe that the company's green-minded consumers will welcome a synthetic biology-derived product, and we would question any 'natural,' 'green,' 'ecological' and/or 'sustainable' claims if they are applied to a product containing bioengineered algal oil," adds the letter.
You can read the full letter to Ecover urging the company not to switch to SynBio algal oil here: ETCGroup.org.