(NaturalNews) Genetic engineering is evolving into a whole new monster with the recent introduction of synthetic biology, a new technology that involves inserting computer-generated DNA into genetically modified (GM) yeast for the purpose of fermenting synthetic ingredients. But a coalition of environmental and food safety advocacy groups is hoping to put a stop to this latest abomination, which is expected to be quietly hidden in the food supply and labeled as "natural."
A recent announcement by Friends of the Earth (FOE) explains that the first "SynBio" ingredient to be released commercially is one that mimics vanillin, the active flavor compound found in natural vanilla. A Swiss company known as Evolva, in partnership with International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), has developed a way to produce artificial vanillin using the brave new process, which has never been tested for safety.
By combining GM yeast with man-made DNA, scientists have come up with a way to manufacture synthetic vanillin-like flavoring in a lab, producing a substance that mimics the real thing. It is biotechnology on steroids, in essence, and multinational corporations plan to market the end product as "natural" while hiding it in food without proper, honest labeling.
"Synthetic biology vanillin is made with a new synthetic genetic code inserted into yeast," explains FOE about the process. "Using a computer, scientists edit the DNA in yeast and insert the computer generated DNA, and then through a fermentation process, force the yeast to biosynthesize vanillin."
SynBio vanillin threatens last remaining rainforests
Like GMOs, synthetic biology is currently unregulated. Independent studies looking at how it affects humans and the environment are non-existent. And yet SynBio vanillin is expected to hit the global market in the very near future, with the potential to turn up in cake frosting, ice cream, baked goods and other food items that often contain vanilla flavoring.
In addition to the fact that it is untested, SynBio vanillin also threatens to undo many generations of natural vanilla cultivation worldwide. Indigenous farmers who currently grow vanilla in harmony with rainforest ecosystems in Africa, South America and elsewhere will be hit hard by the release of SynBio vanillin, which requires intensive sugar cultivation to feed the yeast strains that produce it.
"The immense amount of sugar required for efficient vanillin synthesis encourages monocultures of fast-growing sugars instead of the rich biodiversity of the tropical ecosystems which are host to the vanilla orchid," explains FOE. "Without the natural vanilla market adding economic value to the rainforest in these regions, these last standing rainforests will not be protected from deforestation and sugar cane used to feed the yeast will replace the forests."
If it is allowed to enter the food supply as "natural" without any indication of its biotech origins, SynBio could also cause a major public health crisis. The long-term health consequences of existing GMOs are only just now hitting the mainstream, and the secret addition of SynBio vanillin and other ingredients into the food supply will most likely make the situation even worse.
"It is unclear if synthetic biology vanillin is safe to eat, or what impacts if the synthetic organisms may have upon were interact with natural organisms or ecosystems," says FOE. "Without precautionary testing and regulations that are specific to synthetic biology and which recognize it is as a unique and complex technology, we may not find emergent health threats until it is too late."
You can support the efforts of FOE and its allies, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and the ETC Group, in fighting the release of SynBio ingredients by visiting: FOE.org.