News

16.08.2019 |

Conference: “Science, Precaution, Innovation - towards the integrated governance of new technologies”, 14-15 October, Bielefeld

European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility

Conference on the Precautionary Principle:

“Science, Precaution, Innovation - towards the integrated governance of new technologies”

When: 14-15 October 2019

Where: Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF), Methoden 1, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany

Program: www.ensser.org/pp-conference

Register at registration [at] ensser.org

The Precautionary Principle (PP) concerns situations where the available scientific information about possible harm from human-made innovations gives decision-makers reasonable grounds to suspect possible harm to human health, the environment or biodiversity, but where scientific certainty is lacking. The PP in such situations lawfully justifies decision makers taking precautionary measures to avoid such harm.

Although enshrined in the EU treaty and formally a pillar of EU policy, the PP is often ignored, misinterpreted or violated by the EU Commission and member states. The introduction in recent years of a so called “innovation principle” may well erode this science-based standard and prioritize particularly powerful incumbent economic interests over the high level of protection provided in the EU Treaty. Truly sustainable innovations, however, require conformity with the PP, and a more comprehensive assessment of what (if any) social benefits, and which social needs, may be met.

In this conference we will present and critically appraise examples which illustrate the importance of the PP and discuss what is required to ensure that it will be used wisely and more frequently. Viable paths to a reasonable confidence of no harm to public health, biodiversity and the environment will be identified and explored by reference to currently available knowledge, while acknowledging that strict proof of safety is an illusory goal. Examples including pesticide use, genetically modified crops, electromagnetic fields, endocrine disrupting compounds and nanotechnology will be presented by eminent speakers and explored by the participants.

12.08.2019 |

FDA Finds Unexpected Antibiotic Resistance Genes in 'Gene-Edited' Dehorned Cattle

By Jonathan Latham, PhD and Allison Wilson, PhD

Gene-editing is seen by many as the ultimate in precision breeding. Polled cattle, whose horns have been genetically removed, have been presented as exemplars of this–a socially beneficial use of precise genome engineering. Such hornless cattle were produced in 2016 by Recombinetics, Inc., of St. Paul, Minnesota, a development that was reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology (Carlson et al, 2016).

In that publication, Recombinetics researchers reported detecting no unexpected alterations, such as insertions or deletions of DNA, as a result of the gene-editing procedure. They concluded “our animals are free of off-target events” (Carlson et al, 2016).

09.08.2019 |

Gene-edited hornless cattle: Flaws in the genome overlooked

New techniques for genetic engineering are not as precise as claimed

Cattle are being genetically engineered using gene-editing tools to not grow horns. But according to newly published research by experts at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), gene-editing errors in the genome of these cattle are often being overlooked (see abstract below).

The animals were genetically engineered by the biotech company Recombinetics. The company also filed a patent on the genetically engineered cattle. The cattle have for some years been hyped as a positive application of new genetic engineering techniques and a boon for animal welfare, since these GM cattle will not need to be de-horned. However, it appears to have so far gone unnoticed that the gene-editing has resulted in major unintended outcomes.

Unintended effects

The gene editing scissors (nucleases) used in this case are known as TALENs, a method frequently described as highly precise, and indeed, no off-target genetic changes were detected by the developers of these hornless cattle at Recombinetics.

07.08.2019 |

Tasmania's GMO ban good news for some, a 'missed opportunity' for others

THE Tasmanian Government has extended its ban on the introduction of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) into the island state until 2029.

Tasmania introduced a moratorium on the release of GMOs in 2001 and has been conducting a review since December last year.

The State’s Agriculture Minister, Guy Barnett, announced the extension of the moratorium today.

The Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers Association (TFGA) has welcomed the decision to extend the GMO moratorium for another 10 years.

TFGA chief executive officer, Peter Skillern, said the state’s GMO-free status remained an important component of the Tasmanian brand and assured the state’s agricultural products had access to markets that prohibited GMO products.

“Many intentional markets such as the European Market demand GMO-free products, Tasmania is well placed to enhance and expand our footprint in these large lucrative markets with this announcement,” he said.

“The State Government and Minister Guy Barnett are to be commended for providing surety to the sector and recognising the benefits in maintaining the moratorium and at the same time committing to regular reviews of developments in this area.”

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.

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.

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