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Biotech Industry Cooks up PR Plans to Get Us to Swallow Synthetic Biology Food

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

Two Mondays ago, I sat in a room of some of the most powerful agribusiness, food and synthetic biology companies in the world. The goal of this industry meeting was to discuss how to get the public to accept synthetic biology, a new and unregulated set of genetic engineering methods, as the "foundation for the future of sustainable food." It was meant to be a closed door and off-the-record industry meeting, in contrast to the open public forum on synthetic biology in our food which I helped organize the week before. But after some of the companies caught wind that Friends of the Earth was going to expose the leaked meeting information, we were cordially urged to attend by the meeting organizers.

Although there is no agreed upon definition of synthetic biology, it is a term that encompasses a variety of new, and many would say, "extreme" genetic engineering approaches, including computer generated DNA, directed evolution, and site specific mutagenesis. It's faster and uses more powerful methods to engineer new genetic sequences than "traditional" genetic engineering. Engineers can even create entirely new DNA and organisms that do not exist in nature.

What are the concerns?
The synthetic biology industry is expanding rapidly, with a market value that is expected to reach $10.8 billion by 2016. Like traditional GMOs, the products of synthetic biology are unlabeled, virtually unregulated and the novel risks to human health and the environment posed by synthetic organisms have not been adequately assessed.

The ways in which synthetic organisms will interact with the natural environment are unpredictable and potentially devastating and permanent. While other types of pollution can be cleaned up and do not breed, synthetic biological creations are designed to self-replicate and, once released into the environment, they will be impossible to recall. 


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