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Synthetic Biology

Unbeknownst to the public, a new generation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are hitting the market without appropriate regulatory oversight or assessment for health and environmental risks. In addition to transferring genetic material between organisms, like traditional GMOs, DNA and biological components can be composed synthetically and existing organisms can be genetically “reprogrammed.” A suite of new gene editing techniques are being used to develop new genetically engineered crops, animals, insects, industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals and even bioweapons. According to the National Academy of Sciences, these new biotechnologies are virtually unregulated.

Known as synthetic biology, these emerging GMOs have been envisioned as the source of a new bioeconomy in which GMO yeast, algae and other organisms act as “living factories” to produce fuels, industrial chemicals, bioplastics, medicines and even food.

The drive for biomass to feed these synthetic organism “factories” could exacerbate the current rush to grab land from communities in the global South. The so-called marginal lands eyed by synthetic biology enthusiasts as the answer to this resource question are often the source of food and livelihood for small-scale farmers, pastoralists, women and indigenous peoples.

Synthetic organisms could impact ecosystems in unpredictable and potentially permanent ways. While other types of pollution can be cleaned up, most GMOs are living organisms that self-replicate, and once released into the environment, they may be impossible to recall. A synthetic organism could swap genes with naturally occurring organisms or outcompete them, potentially disrupting entire ecosystems as a new class of invasive species.

We work at the federal and international levels to establish a regulatory framework for synthetic biology that has the precautionary principle, transparency and democratic decision-making at its core.

Latest News See All
Gene-edited animals will intensify factory farming and the climate crisis, could harm human health

A new report from Friends of the Earth and Logos Environmental reveals that the use of gene editing in farm animals poses risks to human health, the environment and animal welfare.

NEW REPORT: Gene Editing in Agriculture Poses New Risks to Health, Environment

On the heels on the European Court of Justice’s ruling requiring organisms developed using new genetic engineering techniques to undergo GMO risk assessments, and several new studies revealing “genetic havoc” as a result of gene editing, Friends of the Earth and Logos Environmental released a new report today, Gene-edited organisms…

Trump announces rollback of GMO, biotechnology regulations

This is just the latest of Trump’s attacks on sensible, science-based regulations, once again putting the interests of corporations ahead of the interests of our health and environment.

Civil society resolutions

A Call for Conservation with a Conscience – open letter against gene drives

“New technologies have played an important role in protecting life on earth, and we the undersigned support innovation and science in conservation. However, we believe that a powerful and potentially dangerous technology such as gene drives, which has not been tested for unintended consequences nor fully evaluated for its ethical and social impacts, should not be promoted as a conservation tool.”

Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology

Friends of the Earth and allies released the Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology, the first global declaration from civil society, endorsed by 111 organizations from around the world, outlining  principles that must be adopted to protect public health and our environment from the risks posed by synthetic biology.

Resolution on Consumer Concerns about New Genetic Engineering Techniques

The Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue, a network of 77 EU and U.S. consumer organisations, states that risks to human health, animal welfare and the environment must be assessed before products derived from new genetic engineering techniques are placed on the market or released into the environment. Products must also be labeled in accordance with consumers’ rights to know and choose what they are buying, including what they eat.

Latest Blog Posts See All
GMO Animals: From Lab to Factory Farm
GMO Animals: From Lab to Factory Farm

Instead of altering the animal, we need to fix the farm. Instead of creating GMO pigs that are resistant to diseases, we should focus on the root cause of the problem: industrial agriculture and horrendous factory farm conditions.

Biotech industry cooks up PR plans to get us to swallow synthetic biology food
Biotech industry cooks up PR plans to get us to swallow synthetic biology food

Like traditional GMOs, the products of synthetic biology are unlabeled, virtually unregulated and the novel risks to human health and the environment posed by synthetic organisms have not been adequately assessed.

Synthetic biology and the bioeconomy: Feeding fuel to the fire of landgrabs and biodiversity loss
Synthetic biology and the bioeconomy: Feeding fuel to the fire of landgrabs and biodiversity loss

There must be a moratorium on synthetic biology – something Friends of the Earth is pushing for internationally – to ensure this emerging technology is properly regulated and does not threaten the environment, biodiversity, human health, or social justice. 

Resources See All
  • Genetically Engineered Animals: From Lab to Factory Farm
    Learn More
  • Shopper’s Guide to GMOs: Are You Ready For The New Wave of Genetic Engineering?
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  • Gene-edited organisms in agriculture: Risks and unexpected consequences
    Download