Unnatural: GMO 2.0 companies at Natural Products Expo West spark controversy… Natural Products Expo West recently returned as an in-person event after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The show, which is organized by New Hope Network, was considered a success as 57,000 people attended along with more than 2,700 exhibitors. But the show’s sunny optimism was dimmed by controversy as some exhibiting companies promoted very unnatural products developed using risky genetic engineering technologies known as synthetic biology or GMO 2.0. Brave Robot promoted its ice cream made from Perfect Day’s synbio proteins. Motif FoodWorks offered samples of its GMO-derived ‘Hemami’ meat alternative. Other synbio company exhibitors were Pipette sunscreens and personal care products, Atomo ‘molecular coffee,’ and Remilk dairy products, among others.
“Natural food retailers—the main target market for Expo West—say the synbio companies had no business being at the show because their products are developed using genetic engineering technologies that are even riskier than the ones the natural food industry has opposed for many years.
“‘I think it’s totally inappropriate that these companies are exhibiting at Expo West; their products are not natural,’ says Mark Squire, co-owner of Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax, California. ‘They are hiding behind a lack of transparency. New Hope needs to understand these GMO 2.0 products have a whole new set of problems attached to them and no regulations.’
“Alan Lewis, vice president of government affairs, stakeholder relations, and organic compliance at Natural Grocers, says that New Hope Network, is ‘bending the definition of ‘natural’ beyond the breaking point’ by allowing synbio companies to exhibit at the show.
“‘The New Hope brand was founded on the hope of creating and nurturing the community of people committed to taking care of each other, animals, and the planet. Transparency was fundamental to the brand and built trust in the community. Synthetic biology violates these foundational values.’
“Patrick Sheridan, president and CEO of the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association (INFRA), says the consensus among his group’s member retailers was that synbio companies don’t belong at a natural food show.”
“‘We’re trying to curb the expansion of GMOs in our food system but food start-ups are getting into Expo using smart marketing campaigns that aren’t transparent.’
“In a Forbes article, Michele Simon, an attorney and strategy consultant for the plant-based foods industry, wrote that New Hope confuses retailers by allowing the GMO 2.0 companies to exhibit.
“‘Many of these buyers are not sophisticated enough to be up on the latest biotechnologies deployed by Silicon Valley-funded start-ups… By allowing products that clearly are not (natural), New Hope is not serving retailers in an honest way.'”