Nestlé, which produces Häagen-Dazs in Canada and the US, and General Mills, which produces Häagen-Dazs outside of North America, have confirmed that they will not source vanilla flavor produced through synthetic biology.
Vanilla made with synthetic biology, or synbio, is designed to replace natural vanillin flavoring from vanilla beans, and is made in labs using artificial DNA and reprogrammed genetically engineered yeast.
Other ice cream brands, including Three Twins Ice Cream, Straus Family Creamery and Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss, have also confirmed their products will not include any vanilla derived from synbio.
According to consumer advocacy group Friends of the Earth, the US Food and Drug Administration is expected to allow synthetic biology vanilla and other similarly created food and cosmetic ingredients to enter the market with the classification of “Generally Regarded As Safe.” This classification relies on individual companies to evaluate the safety of their products.
Synthetic biology could reduce land impact by producing products in labs rather than in farm fields. However, currently commercialized artificial organisms — synbio yeast and algae — feed on sugar, and advocacy groups are concerned that if these applications are increased, they will speed the destruction of bio-diverse areas in favor of increased sugarcane production. In addition, synbio organisms are designed to reproduce, and once released into the environment, would be impossible to recall.
Food companies have faced increase pressure to ban genetically modified organisms in recent years. In January, General Mills announced that it had stopped using genetically modified ingredients to make original Cheerios, and shortly thereafter Post Foods rolled out a non-GMO verified Grape Nuts.
In addition, in July, Safeway shareholders urged the company to label store brand products that contain genetically modified organisms.
Photo credit: Ice cream via Shutterstock