Critics decry synbio vanillin for its perceived impact on poor farmers

On its journey from the fields in Madagascar to your ice cream, sponge cake and chocolate, the vanilla plant is subjected to an intense process: it’s cured, dried and sometimes even oxidised.

Given the lengthy nature of vanilla production – it can take several weeks to go from plant to product – the majority of producers turn to synthetic alternatives (vanillin). Synthetic vanillins are generally produced using petrochemicals or wood pulp, and some in the industry consider them to be harmful to the environment. One such organisation is Swiss company Evolva, which has developed a way to brew vanillin from yeast – deemed a more sustainable source.

“We’re not sure why anybody who cares about sustainability and environmental progress would prefer that the food industry simply continues to source their [artificial vanillin] from chemical companies and paper mills,” says Stephan Herrera, the company’s vice president.

Using synthetic biology (synbio), scientists at Evolva edit the DNA of yeast, and through a fermentation process, force it to sythensise vanillin.

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In the case of vanillin though, synbio has courted media coverage and criticism. The environmental organisation Friends of the Earth (FoE) has urged the public to say no to synbio vanillin, referring to it as an “extreme form” of genetic engineering.

Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner at FoE says that the potential impact of synbio technology won’t just be felt by consumers, but also by rural communities and smallholder farmers whose livelihoods depend on traditional vanilla production.

According to Herrera, because Evolva is targeting the 99% of vanillin that is produced synthetically, its operations shouldn’t affect rural farmers.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. Read full, original post: Creators defend vanilla flavour made using synthetic biology


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