A recent New York Times article focused on advances in synthetic biology has claimed that the exponential growth in genetically modified (GM) yeast applications “could revolutionize the production of some of the most sought-after flavors and fragrances,” including vanilla, saffron, patchouli, and stevia. According to the October 20, 2013, article, food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies seeking plant extract alternatives are increasingly turning to GM yeast and other micro-organisms “cultured in huge industrial vats” to synthesize vanillin, valencene, nootkatone, and other chemicals as byproducts of the fermentation process. Proponents of this technique have not only argued that the yeast-made flavorings are less expensive to manufacture than their plant-based counterparts, but that the end result is a natural ingredient because it originates in a living organism.

“The need for natural is a key driver,” said Ahmet Baydar, director of research and development at International Flavors and Fragrances, which reportedly hopes that yeast-made vanillin “will be attractive to food companies that want to label their products all-natural but do not want to pay the higher price for natural vanilla.” In addition, investors have noted that synthetic biology could help stabilize volatile markets for key food and pharmaceutical components “subject to great swings in price and availability.”

But GM yeast applications have also drawn criticism from traditional extract
purveyors and environmental groups like Friends of the Earth, which has
already petitioned ice cream makers to reject yeast-made vanillin. “Another
issue is whether foods containing such ingredients will need to be labeled
made from genetically modified organisms in countries that require such
labeling,” reports the Times. “The flavor companies say they do not think so
because the yeast is considered a processing aid, not a source of the food. The
United States does not require labeling, though there are legislative efforts in
various states to do so.”

 

 

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For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.

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