Keep it real

November 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
'Factory farming' just got a whole new meaning. It used to mean thousands of cows crammed in a muddy pen, or pigs living their lives out stuffed in crates, or tiers of chickens in boxes, all fed GM feed. Now it means farming in a factory. Farming, that is of microbes genetically transformed to produce food-like substances.

Dubbed 'GMOs 2.0', these tiny novel life-forms are making stuff which is already going into food and cosmetics. It's not labelled 'GM' and might even be labelled 'natural'.

The sort of thing we're talking about is GM yeast to put some flavour into processed food, or GM algae to produce oils for your skin, or GM bacteria to make your gut healthy (!), or to make your dog's poo smell of bananas (!!).

They might be labelled sustainable, but are they? Big vats of little bugs need lots of feeding, and that's going to come in part from the unsustainable land-degrading agri-system we already use.

Containment? Containment of yeast, algae or bacteria in a commercial setting is impossible, no matter how many hygiene and engineering controls are devised.

And, safety? Who knows. There are no safety-testing protocols in place. Indeed, testing would need to be ongoing. Microbes fermenting in perfect culture conditions multiply at breakneck speed. With multiplication can come evolution to new forms and possibly toxic or pathogenic strains. If factory-farmed cows or pigs or chickens become sickly, you can see the symptoms. But, with bugs, you won't be able to see the change.


We've gone full circle since 1989, and apparently haven't learned a thing. 

The prototype GMO 2.0 was a bacterium genetically transformed to produce vast quantities of tryptophan supplement. It killed 37 people and left more than 1,500 disabled, some chronically. If it hadn't ended badly so suddenly, no one would have noticed. If the tryptophan had been in the general food chain instead of in labelled bottles of pills, no one would ever have made the connection.

Before we find ourselves in the throes of another 'tryptophan-like GMO 2.0 disaster', showing up as novel diseases, novel gut disorders, novel pathogens and novel skin problems, all of unknown aetiology, tell the manufacturers of your foods, probiotics and cosmetics to ensure no GMO 2.0 ingredients are used in their products. The message is: KEEP IT REAL

Checkout which offers critical perspectives on the synthetic biology industry grounded in ethics and social, economic, and ecological justice.

  • Are GMOs 2.0 in your food and cosmetics? A shoppers guide to synthetic biology, Synbiowatch, produced by ETC Group and Friends of the Earth U.S., September 2016
  • New guide identifies GMOs 2.0 in food and cosmetics, GM Watch 21.09.16

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