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06.08.2019 |

The ethical landscape of gene drive research

Abstract

Gene drive technology has immense potential. The ability to bypass the laws of Mendelian inheritance and almost ensure the transmission of specific genetic material to future generations creates boundless possibilities. But alongside these boundless possibilities are major social and ethical issues. This article aims to introduce gene drive technology, some of its potential applications, and some of the social and ethical issues that arise during research into the technology. For example, is investigation into gene drives hubristic? Would applications of gene drives count as technological fixes? Or does research into such a technology sit on a slippery slope or lock us in to its full‐scale use? Are there perverse effects of engaging in research, and, most importantly, who ought to be included in the decision‐making process regarding research and field trials? Understanding the basic ethical landscape of this technology will prove invaluable to the public, scientists, and policy‐makers as research moves forward.

01.08.2019 |

Activities | Stop the patenting of plants and animals derived from conventional breeding!

In March 2019, the President of the European Patent Office (EPO) raised two questions at the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO concerning patents on plants and animals derived from conventional breeding. The Enlarged Board of Appeal will now deal with these questions. Until 1 October 2019 statements can be filed. No Patents on Seeds! will file a detailed legal argumentation on these questions.

If you want to support the demand to stop the patenting of plants and animals derived from conventional breeding, you can sign the open letter below online. Alternatively you can print the letter as a pdf (see below) and send it to „Keine Patente auf Saatgut!“ / Frohschammerstraße 14 / 80807 Munich, Germany. The letters and the signatures will then be handed over to the EPO until 1 October 2019.

Organizations, who want to support the letter, are kindly asked to send an email to johanna.eckhardt@no-patents-on-seeds.org.

Detailed info about the questions to the Enlarged Board of Appeal can be found in the background document.

26.07.2019 |

HOMEF faults GMO crops’ rescue claim to world’s growing population

The Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) has faulted the claim that genetically modified (GM) crops remain the veritable source of food to world’s projected 10 billion population.

Puncturing the assertion at a dialogue with civil society organisations (CSOs) hosted by the organisation in Benin City, Edo State, its Director Dr. Nnimmo Bassey, described food as critical to human lives.

He emphasised the benefits of nourishment derivable from eating good meals.

Bassey, who spoke on “food and farming systems in Nigeria”, stated that food sovereignty defines the right of people at all times to access to safe, nutritious, healthy and culturally appropriate food, produced using methods that are ecologically sound and sustainable.

He explained that presenting GM crops as the solution for food production in the future was a propaganda, adding that the style of messaging had been used to make people accept modules that contradict their interest.

24.07.2019 |

US pressure on EU to de-regulate new GM

One year after a landmark ECJ judgment that the EU’s GMO rules should apply to new genetic engineering techniques, industry groups and the US Government are keeping up pressure on the European Union to deregulate, with implications for food and bio-safety, as well as consumer choice.

On 25 July 2018 a key ruling was published by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which left no space for interpretation: existing GMO regulations must be applied to all products produced from new techniques of genetic engineering like CRISPR-Cas. Such techniques - often referred to by developers as ‘gene-editing’ or ‘new breeding techniques’ - have emerged since Europe’s GMO law was introduced in 2001, and are currently being applied by developers to food crops, trees, farm animals and insects. Dozens of patents have already been filed in this field by the big agrochemical corporations like Bayer, BASF, Dow Agrosciences and Monsanto.

18.07.2019 |

Trees, GE Trees and Nature to Save Capitalism from Itself: new report out

Trees to Solve the World’s Problems?

From Genetically Engineered Trees for the Bioeconomy – to the Trillion Tree Proposal and Business for Nature

By Anne Petermann and Orin Langelle, Global Justice Ecology Project

This report examines events and research publicized between 23 June and 4 July 2019 that discuss the mass-use of trees to enable the unsustainable lifestyles of the world’s top 1% in the face of looming ecological catastrophe: from trees genetically engineered to feed the “green” manufacture of energy, plastics and chemicals; the planting of trillions of trees to reduce global atmospheric carbon levels; and “reforms” to the economic system to allow future profit-making under the guise of biodiversity protection.

The three events where these proposals were brought out were the International Union of Forest Research Organization’s 2019 Tree Biotechnology Conference 23-29 June at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, The Global Tree Restoration Potential, a new study published on 4 July in Science, and the launch of Business for Nature initiatives in China and Norway on 2 July.

09.07.2019 |

The EU must not de-regulate gene-edited crops and foods

Some members of the outgoing EU Commission and the agbiotech lobby want the regulations governing genetically modified crops and foods relaxed or scrapped to open markets for gene-edited products. But this goes against the science underpinning the technology and could put the public and environment at risk, writes Dr Michael Antoniou.

Dr Michael Antoniou is molecular geneticist at King’s College London

Some members of the outgoing European Commission want to change the EU legislation on genetically modified (GM) foods and crops to accommodate the products of new gene-editing techniques, often called “new plant breeding techniques” or NBTs.

Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said DG SANTE “has already prepared the ground for a new initiative on gene editing to overhaul the current GMO legislation”. The “initiative” will be taken up by the new Commission after this year’s elections.

28.06.2019 |

EFSA gene drive working group fails independence test

Gene drive, a new genetic engineering technique potentially as powerful as it is controversial, is undergoing regulatory evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). But as a majority of experts tasked to assess the technology’s potential risks have financial links with organisations developing the technology, the assessment is mired in conflicts of interest. Time for the EU Parliament to increase the pressure on the agency to tighten its independence policy.

Obvious and serious conflicts of interest are still not in the past for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA): a look at the agency’s working group on the risks associated to the gene drive technology makes this quite clear. Two-thirds of its members have financial links with organisations developing this technology. For instance, two of the appointed experts are receiving funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which in turn funds lobby work in favour of the technology. Even according to EFSA’s own, rather weak, independence policy, one of these appointments should not have been made due to obvious conflicts of interest.

So why did EFSA put together such a problematic expert panel on an issue that is this sensitive? The agency has defended its choices, stating that the appointments are compliant with its independence rules – a claim which is in one case is simply incorrect. Apart from showing that EFSA does not therefore seem to properly implement its own rules, the fact that several other grave conflicts of interest did not even trigger the policy demonstrates that there are still severe loopholes.

After so many years of EFSA’s poor implementation and partial disregard of repeated EU Parliament requests to fix its independence policy, wouldn’t it be time for Parliamentarians to step up the pressure on this EU agency?

26.06.2019 |

Opposition against patent on salmon and trout

26 June 2019 / A broad coalition of over 30 organizations backed by over 5000 individual supporters have today filed an opposition against a patent on salmon and trout (EP1965658). They are asking for the patent to be revoked in its entirety since they do not consider it to be a technical invention but simply patented plagiarism.

The patent claims salmon and trout reared with selected plants to increase the level of unsaturated fatty acids in their muscle tissue. These fatty acids are considered beneficial to human health. The selected plants used in the salmon feed include common wild herbs and flowering plants e.g. borage and species of echium, or others such as evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) and black currants (Ribes nigrum). However, there is nothing new about these plants showing naturally high concentrations of suitable fatty acids.

(.....)

No patents on seeds! is calling for politicians to take responsibility and to change the law if necessary. In future, it should be made impossible to grant patents on conventionally bred plants and animals. It is feared that these patents will primarily serve the interests of large corporations, such as Bayer, who will ultimately take control of agriculture and food production.

17.06.2019 |

New GMOs: Coming to your dinner plate soon?

Did you think GM crops and foods had pretty much gone away in Europe? Now they’re set to return.

If lobbyists get their way, new genetically modified (GM) crops, foods, and farm animals will appear in our fields and on our dinner plates – with few or no safety checks and no labelling.

These new GM crops and foods are produced with so-called gene-editing techniques. Gene-edited organisms already developed include super-muscled pigs (similar to the one in the image above), a non-browning mushroom, and a soybean that produces altered fats.

GMO companies are also planning to market a new generation of gene-edited herbicide-tolerant crops, including wheat. These plants are engineered to survive being sprayed with large amounts of toxic herbicides, such as those based on glyphosate.

Gene-editing techniques are often called “New Breeding Techniques” (NBTs). But they are not breeding techniques. They are artificial laboratory GM techniques that result in the production of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

12.06.2019 |

Patent applications covering ‘seeds to meat’ and from ‘maize to milk’

Patent on salmon and trout is not just an isolated case

12 June 2019 / The patent granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) covering salmon and trout reared on specific plants (EP1965658) could now become a precedent for many other patent applications. Recent research shows several similar European patent applications are already pending, claiming food products, such as meat and milk, derived from animals fed with selected plants.

The patent on salmon and trout was granted in October 2018 and recently brought to public attention by “No Patents on Seeds!”. The patent monopoly covers the rearing and feeding of the fish, along with the fish itself. After learning of this case, No Patents on Seeds! researched similar patent applications. This research came to an alarming conclusion: there are several other European patent applications recently filed at the World Patent Institute (WIPO), all following a similar strategy. Starting with plants and feed, also the food products derived from farm animals are claimed as inventions.

For example, Syngenta not only claims genetically engineered maize as its ‘invention’ but also the production of milk and meat from animals fed with such plants: In patent WO2018204245, “a harvested cattle carcass” is part of the invention; and patent WO2019075028 claims a “method of increasing the amount of milk produced by a dairy animal”. While these patents rely on transgenic maize, others such as the patent on salmon also claim usage of conventionally bred plants.

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