Genetic engineering

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The issue

Our capacity to map and manipulate genetic material has evolved at a rapid pace. Although noble goals of solving environmental and public health problems guide the development of some genetically modified organisms (GMOs), too often, emerging biotechnologies are used to develop products that benefit companies’ bottom lines at the expense of people and the planet. Corporations are driven to design, patent and profit from new biotechnologies rather than protect the public good.

Despite a concerted corporate PR campaign claiming that the question is settled, there is no scientific consensus on the safety of agricultural GMOs. More than 300 scientists, physicians and scholars state this clearly in a joint statement, and the World Health Organization concurs.

Unbeknownst to the public, a new generation of GMOs 2.0 are hitting the market. 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 biotechnologies ahead of appropriate, transparent assessment and oversight. More than 30 international environmental leaders and conservationists state the need to halt some of the most dangerous applications of the next generation of genetic engineering technologies. Learn more.

What we’re doing

Friends of the Earth works to transform public policy to establish appropriate safety assessment and oversight of GMO crops and animals, and we lead campaigns to keep GMOs out of our food system. We advance regenerative organic and agroecological farming systems that are inherently healthier and that pose fewer risks for people, pollinatorsanimals and the planet. 

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Learn more

The vast majority of GMOs in agriculture have been engineered for just two traits —  to express Bt insecticide in all cells of the plant and to be resistant to certain herbicides. These biotechnologies further entrench the industrialization of our food and farming system by increasing the use of harmful pesticides, decreasing genetic diversity and significantly intensifying corporate control over seeds, farmers and agricultural research.

The use of glyphosate (aka Roundup®) has increased dramatically since herbicide-tolerant GMO crops were introduced two decades ago. This ubiquitous use has had negative consequences, from “superweeds that farmers can no longer control, to the decimation of milkweed, which monarch butterflies rely on as the sole source of food for their young. Glyphosate has also been designated as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Companies that produce GMOs have far more power to determine how these technologies get used than people around the world who are affected by them. Biotech companies severely restrict the ability of independent scientists to investigate the health and environmental impacts of GMO crops since patent laws give GMO manufacturers the legal power to determine how their seeds get used, both in farming and research. Thus, independent research is often subject to seed company approval. There is also a profound lack of funding available for independent science on the safety and efficacy of GMOs.

Reports and resources

Press releases



Consumer and company guides

  • GMOs 2.0: Synthetic biology, a company guide to protecting natural resources: Ingredients produced via synthetic biology have already have entered natural products supply chains without labeling or notice. This guide helps companies to ensure these ingredients don’t evade existing product control procedures and unintentionally end up in products. Consumers want more transparency and honesty about what is in the products they buy and what is truly natural and sustainable.
  • Shopper’s Guide to Synthetic Biology: Are GMOs 2.0 in your food and cosmetics? Gene-silenced apples that never brown, synthetic stevia created with genetically engineered algae — these are just some of the new generation of GMOs companies are sneaking into food and consumer products. This guide helps consumers avoid the new wave of GMOs and find truly natural and sustainable options.


  • Reckless Driving: Gene drives and the end of nature: Gene drives could re-engineer ecosystems, create fast spreading extinctions and intervene in living systems at a scale far beyond anything ever imagined. The implications for the environment, food security, peace, and even social stability are significant. Dealing with this run-away technology is already being compared to the challenge of governing nuclear power.
  • Extreme Genetic Engineering and the Human Future: This report discusses the breakneck speed of recent developments in genetic engineering that could be used to alter human DNA. It examines health, regulatory, social and ethical questions about proposals ranging from genetically altering human gut bacteria to implementing heritable germline editing.
  • 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.
  • Synthetic solutions to the climate crisis: The dangers of synthetic biology for biofuels production: In the wake of an unfulfilled promise of genetic engineering to mitigate climate change emerges a more extreme form of genetic engineering, also touted as the solution to the climate crisis - synthetic biology. Synthetic biology is not a sustainable solution to the climate crisis and has the potential to create an entirely new set of problems.

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