By Max Goldberg
If you are eating “animal-free” dairy or meat products that taste nearly identical to a traditional animal product, you should be asking plenty of questions.
And more often than not, what you will discover is that these foods are anything but “natural.”
Aware of what consumers may find out and not wanting to make the same PR mistake twice, the GMO industry has intentionally introduced sophisticated and deceptive names such as synthetic biology, cultured meat, gene editing, precision fermentation and cellular-based seafood.
Further muddying the waters is that these companies have been funded not just by the likes of Bayer and BASF, but by Silicon Valley heavyweight investors who have bankrolled some of the largest technology companies in the world, giving these start-ups instant credibility and a certain degree of protection from criticism.
Even more, the organic community is being aggressively courted.
They are enlisting people like acclaimed farm-to-table chef Dan Barber and are purchasing booths at Natural Products Expo West, a show that most attendees believe is only for “natural” products. And these booths are interspersed throughout the show, sharing aisles with USDA organic and natural product companies.
During ‘The State of Organic & Natural’ keynote presentation at this year’s Expo West, we were told that “The only way we are going to meet demand, as a planet, is through cultured meat.” Cultured meat is meat produced from cells, without having to raise or kill animals. This is synthetic biology.
As these GMO 2.0 companies have raised billions of dollars, with Silicon Valley salivating over the prospect of owning a piece of the patent-protected food supply, their marketing tactics have been an unmitigated success at manipulating the public.
“Companies call these things ‘synthetic biology’ and ‘fermentation technology,’ but these foods are all just GMOs,” said Michael Hansen, PhD, Senior Staff Scientist at Consumer Reports. “They are using terms people do not understand, so that people will not realize these are GMO ingredients.”
Moreover, the problems with synthetic biology are the same ones that we have had with traditional GMOs.
“These are often highly processed foods, which are associated with increased calorie intake and weight gain, according to a study from the National Institute of Health. And while these companies may be perceived as tech start-ups, the products they produce are designed to fit into an industrial food system, and society is clearly moving against this trend and toward a more agroecological-based food system. Additionally, they are introducing novel, genetically-engineered proteins into the food supply that will have unknown potential impacts on the human microbiome and the environment, and these companies are self-affirming GRAS status with the FDA, a voluntary process that is incredibly problematic and falls very, very short of protecting the consumer,” said Michael Hansen.
Max Goldberg is the founder of Organic Insider, the country’s leading organic food industry newsletter