Even the detractors fighting tooth and nail against synthetic biology are having a hard time ignoring the benefits of this new industry.
Take Whole Foods. In March 2013 the supermarket chain committed itself to labeling all their foods that contain GMOs or GMO derived ingredients as “GMO products” by 2018, as a part of their “GMO: Right to Know” program. This is in response to the various anti-GMO activist organizations committed to eliminating modified organisms from the food industry, by making biotech companies explicitly label their products, should they contain GMOs.
Benefits of synthetic biology are often overlooked in exchange for crowd-pleasing blanket statements and the opportunity to appear ironically “progressive” by eliminating GMOs from a company’s lineup
The benefits of GMOs to society are great, including the potential to reduce worldwide hunger and encourage clean, environmentally responsible production. However, such benefits are often overlooked in exchange for crowd-pleasing blanket statements and the opportunity to appear ironically “progressive” by eliminating GMOs from a company’s lineup. However, most companies will only engage in these PR campaigns when it will positively impact their bottom line.
Whole Foods is finding out the hard way that sanctioning GMOs is not the best way to do this. From June to July of this year, Whole Foods was forced to recall many tons of fresh fruit and vegetables due to an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes, the key pathogen that causes the often-fatal food-borne illness Listeriosis. Typical tests for Listeria require several production shifts in order to yield results, by which time the food has either already sat on the supermarket shelves, or worse, been consumed. Sample6 uses a modified bacteriophage (read: GMO) that binds with the Listeria bacteria and causes it to fluoresce. The test is much cheaper to perform, is virtually instant, and is 100% safe.
While a customer has the right to know what he or she is purchasing and consuming, they also have the right to know the true benefits or harms caused by the food they consume. The benefits of GMO foods and organisms have the potential to positively impact the world for billions of people, including those who currently have close to no food at all. This all hinges on the public’s ability to educate itself on the true nature of genetic modification and synthetic biology, and their conscious decision whether to give in to fear-mongering or ride the wave of progress into a more sustainable future.