The organic label’s prohibition of genetically modified foods will include next-generation engineering techniques like synthetic biology and gene editing, after the National Organic Standards Board voted unanimously to update United States Organic Standards on Friday.
“The National Organic Standards Board has made clear that all kinds of genetic engineering are to be excluded from ‘organic.’ The public expects that government to actually assess the new foods that it is permitting on the market,” said Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst, Center for Food Safety. “Unfortunately, the government has failed to update its regulations to adequately assess these new kinds of genetically engineering. When the USDA approves that NOSB recommendations, consumers who want to avoid GMOs will be able to use the Organic Seal to know that the product is not a GMO.”
Synthetic biology techniques are often used to make organisms produce substances that they would not normally produce, such as EverSweet, which is made with genetically engineered yeast that makes a substance found in stevia, or to edit DNA to silence certain traits, such as gene edited pesticide-resistant canola oil, which is made by deleting a section of DNA, or gene-silenced apples that don’t turn brown.
“The Board’s hard-fought proactive stance on synthetic biology will both help preserve the integrity of organic standards and raise awareness about this virtually unregulated and unlabeled form of genetic engineering,” said Dana Perls, food and technology policy campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “It’s critical that organic standards treat new types of genetic engineering that are rapidly entering our food and consumer products as rigorously as the first generation of GMOs.”
This decision follows announcements from several companies that they will not be using certain ingredients produced with synthetic biology; Ben and Jerry’s, Nestlé, and General Mills announced their commitment to source vanilla from sources other than synthetic biology vanilla flavoring made by Evolva and International Flavors and Fragrances. This product, released in 2014, is the first major synthetic biology ingredient to enter mass-marketed food and beverages.
Earlier this month, SynBioWatch released a document making it easier for consumers to find and avoid foods produced via synthetic biology.
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