As an organization, Good Earth has long endeavored to educate around the importance of organic and Non-GMO foods. As we look toward the future, we are deeply concerned about the emergence of Synthetic Biology within the food system. Synthetic Biology is the latest wave in genetic engineering, and describes a number of new technologies that are being used to produce compounds that taste, feel, or smell like familiar substances, but don’t actually come from a natural source. 

A few examples of these genetically engineered products include:

Impossible Burger™- Marketed as a plant-based alternative to the traditional burger, the Impossible Burger features heme, a genetically engineered ingredient that helps the burger look and taste like meat. In discussion with the FDA, Impossible Foods admitted that up to a quarter of its heme ingredient was composed of 46 “unexpected” additional proteins, some of which are unidentified and none of which were assessed for safety in the dossier.

EverSweet Sweetener™- Produced to mimic stevia, this zero-calorie sweetener is made with genetically engineered yeast.

Arctic Apples™- Using “gene-silencing”, these GMO apples have been engineered so they won’t turn brown.

We find this latest wave of genetic engineering concerning for a number of reasons. Firstly, the technologies used to create these GMO products, like CRISPR, are largely untested for safety. Though these technologies are being used to alter the DNA of plants and animals, we have very little understanding of the long-term impacts they might have on organisms or ecosystems. Additionally, many of these new synthetic compounds are created using GMO corn and sugar as feedstocks. Ironically, many of these products, like the Impossible Burger, are being marketed as “natural” and “sustainable”.

Synthetic Biology also stands to potentially harm the livelihood of farmers, as many of the companies investing in these new forms of genetic engineering are working to create synthetic alternatives to agricultural ingredients like shea butter and vanilla. Farmers in areas such as Africa, Asia and Latin America have relied on these crops as a source of income for generations, and these synthetic alternatives threaten to undercut the market and therefore the stability of farm economies.

If you are looking to avoid this new wave of genetically engineered products, we recommend buying organic or Non-GMO Project Verified when organic is not available. Organic farmers are prohibited from using genetically engineered crops or harmful toxic herbicides/pesticides, and the Non-GMO Project is tracking and developing new testing protocols to protect against gene-edited ingredients and synthetic biology in verified products.

At Good Earth, we are committed to sourcing the highest quality organic and Non-GMO offerings possible, and we are working to put additional protections in place to safeguard our stores from products created using this new wave of genetic engineering. We feel that the areas most vulnerable to Synthetic Biology within the natural products industry are Plant Based Foods (like plant based burgers) and supplements/personal care, areas where we’ve traditionally had a difficult time sourcing organic options. Because of this, we are scrutinizing products in these categories very closely.

If you’re interested in learning more about Synthetic Biology, we recommend visiting 

http://www.synbiowatch.org/. Friends of the Earth and ETC also have a number of useful resources on their websites.

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