Now that food manufacturers (in this case specifically Nestle) are pledging to use natural ingredients, there appears to be a huge shortage of vanilla. The amount of natural vanilla from vanilla beans available worldwide will only supply a small fraction of the demand. See this Chemical and Engineering News article regarding all the options that are available to food producers. Most of the options (other than synthesizing from petrochemicals) are very expensive. At the heart of the matter is the question: “What constitutes natural?”. The article outlines the guidelines that the U.S. and the E.U. use. Presently, vanilla that is produced with the help of a genetically modified organism (by the company Evolva) is NOT considered genetically modified because the organism is just a helper to the process.
It is not yet clear whether vanillin made from genetically modified organisms will be adopted or marketed. Because the microbe that expresses Evolva’s vanillin is considered a processing aid, a product made with the flavor would not fall under U.S. GMO labeling requirements and could lend itself to no-artificial-ingredient claims. On the other hand, the Non-GMO Project says foods containing ingredients made with synthetic biology will not be allowed to carry its voluntary label.