Every month, the research and editorial minds at Nutrition Business Journal, Functional Ingredients and Engredea team up to publish a deep dive into a segment of the raw material industry. This article is from our newest report, the NBJ/Engredea Monograph: Sweeteners 2013 Edition. Be sure to check out the full report if you're looking for more information on sweeteners.
The sweetener industry is wavering on the edge of two starkly different realities. Will mainstream consumers buy into the ideology of ecological purists, who see the world of genetic manipulation as the embodiment of evil? Don’t you dare mess with the genome of plants, of Mother Nature, to increase corporate profits!
Or, will consumers decide that at the end of the day, they don’t care about each minute step of how their food has gotten to their plate? As long as it is affordable, tasty and “nature-identical,” they are going to chow down.
At first glance, this might look like a simple debate between the Modern Day Hippies and the Ideological Offspring of Ayn Rand. But in fact, the lines cannot be drawn so simply. There is a growing body of ecologically minded people who are saying this: Wait a minute. We have been inter-breeding plants and changing their DNA for hundreds of years. Genesplicing DNA isn’t all that different. And by making food more affordable, healthy and on the mass scale, you are actually doing the world, and the planet, a greater service.
Genetic manipulation as the higher ecological good. Humpf. Now there’s a provocative idea.
What is driving the debate so urgently today is that Cargill, that mega-corporate mega-producer of food ingredients worldwide, has tapped a deal with a company called Evolva that will make the actual growing of the stevia plant obsolete. Under the plan, they will take the sweet-tasting components of the plant, the glycosides, and splice them onto yeast, which will then manufacture the compounds, in masse, in only a fraction of the time it would take to plant, grow, harvest and process stevia plants.
Known as “transgenic” science, this same technology was introduced several years ago by DuPont, for the manufacture of EPA. The content of EPA has been the selling point of fish and krill oil over vegan, algae-based oils for years. Algae is
mostly DHA omega-3s, whereas animal omega-3s contain both EPA and DHA. Since scientists do not yet know which of those two compounds have the greater benefit on human health, one can argue, legitimately, that animal omega-3s are the superior source (since they have both the EPA and the DHA).
At least, they could until DuPont sliced the sterodinic acid (SDA), which is the precursor to EPA, onto yeast manufactured in a lab. Now vegans around the world can get all the EPA they want without ever killing a fish or a krill. But they have to be willing to admit that they have signed on to transgenic science in the process.