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Home / Articles / Views / The Highroad /  Get a whiff of 'synthetic biology'
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Thursday, November 7,2013

Get a whiff of 'synthetic biology'

By Jim Hightower

It’s always inspiring to see global corporate giants crush small farmers, stomp on nature, circumvent our laws by hook or crook, and deceive and gouge consumers.

Welcome once again to the phantasmagoric world of DNA manipulators. In particular, this branch of genetic engineering wizardry calls itself “synthetic biology.” Yes, that’s an oxy moron meaning “fake life.” But it’s also moronic in this case, for it’s a crude and costly attempt by high-tech alchemists at such corporate powers as BASF and Cargill to genetically modify micro-organisms to produce something wholly unnecessary: Artificial flavorings and fragrances.

One of their “achievements” is to use a powerful form of gene-altering technology to re-engineer yeast and make synthetic vanilla. Hello — of all the world’s needs, why put so much money and scientific energy into something that’s on every grocery shelf, both in a natural and artificial form? Also, this corporate wizardry creates a massive threat to the livelihoods of thousands of small tropical farmers in developing nations. Madagascar, for example, one of the world’s poorest countries, has 80,000 farmers whose only reliable cash crop is vanilla beans. “I really count on that to make a living,” says one.

Well, sniff the faraway synthetic makers, we can do it cheaper. But “can do” is not the same as “will do.” Even though the lab-made vanilla is not as good as nature’s own, corporations will use their political and marketing muscle to capture the market and jack up prices. Advertising gimmickry is already in play, for the synthetic biology industry is insisting that its fake stuff is a “natural” product, therefore it need not be labeled as a GMO — even though it is.

To get a bigger whiff of this outrage, go to Friends of the Earth at www.foe.org.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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