UN Biodiversity Convention Agrees On Precautionary Approach To Synthetic Biology 29/11/2018 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)SHARM El-SHEIKH, Egypt — While the world has been taken by surprise after a Chinese researcher declared he had genetically modified twin babies, and critics are rising from all parts, the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a decision on synthetic biology today at the close of its biennial meeting. The decision which calls for a precautionary approach was hailed by civil society groups which were calling for a moratorium preventing gene drive organisms to be released in the wild. The 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the third meeting of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol [pdf] on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization is taking place from 13-29 November. The decision [pdf] adopted today retains a mention of gene editing, after lively discussions and requests by some countries that it be kept out of the decision (IPW, Biodiversity/Genetic Resources/Biotech, 28 November 2018). The decision recognises that “as there could be potential adverse effects arising from organisms containing engineered gene drives, before these organisms are considered for release into the environment, research and analysis are needed, and specific guidance may be useful to support case-by-case risk assessment.” The decision calls upon parties “other Governments and relevant organizations to continue to develop or implement, as appropriate, measures to prevent or minimize potential adverse effects arising from exposing the environment to organisms, components and products of synthetic biology in contained use, including measures for detection, identification and monitoring, in accordance with domestic circumstances or internationally agreed guidelines, as appropriate, with special consideration to the centres of origin and genetic diversity.” Also in the decision is the request to “Where appropriate, the ‘prior and informed consent’, the ‘free, prior and informed consent’ or ‘approval and involvement’ of potentially affected indigenous peoples and local communities is sought or obtained, where applicable in accordance with national circumstances and legislation.” Civil Society Groups Hail Decision If they did not get a moratorium (IPW, Biodiversity/Genetic Resources/Biotech, 23 November 2018), civil society groups which were pushing for it are nonetheless satisfied and hailed the decision as a landmark. “This important decision puts controls on gene drives using simple common sense principles,” says Jim Thomas, co-executive director of the ETC Group in a press release. ‘Don’t mess with someone else’s environment, territories and rights without their consent. Gene drives are currently being pursued by powerful military and agribusiness interests and a few wealthy individuals,” he said. “This UN decision puts the power back in the hands of local communities, in particular indigenous peoples, to step on the brakes on this exterminator technology.” Thomas told Intellectual Property Watch that the decision “very much elevates the duty to seek or obtain the consent or approval of ‘potentially affected indigenous communities and local communities’ prior to considering environmental release.” “Given the potentially wide geographic reach of spreading gene drive systems, this requirement to seek or obtain consent from those who may ‘potentially’ be affected may in practice place a very high precautionary barrier to gene drive release moving forward,” he said. “So,” he continued, “we feel this decision is pretty significant. Most importantly, however, it sets the trajectory of global gene drive governance upon a clear, simple and important principle of justice that even a child could understand: consent.” In the release, Guy Kastler from La Via Campesina, a global peasants movement, said, ‘The prospect of this technology brings unprecedented risks that we can’t accept. The UN should have decided a clear moratorium on gene drives.” “La Via Campesina calls on peasants of the world to oppose in every country the implementation of this technology, which can potentially exterminate our crops or animals and other elements of biodiversity essential to our productions and livelihood,” he said. Importance of Footnote A representative of the NGO Third World Network told Intellectual Property Watch that a footnote (2) in Paragraph 9 refers to “Decision X111/17 [pdf]” of December 2016 on synthetic biology. This decision itself reaffirms decision XII/24 and XI/11, paragraph 4. Both of those refer to the precautionary approach as stated in the preamble of the CBD and its Article 14 on impact assessment and minimizing adverse impacts, she said. Image Credits: Catherine Saez Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com."UN Biodiversity Convention Agrees On Precautionary Approach To Synthetic Biology" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.