On October 10, ETC Group attended the US Food and Drug Administrations first public meeting on nanotechnology. About 40 people had signed up to make presentations, and we were each given eight minutes to say our piece to the FDAs newly-formed Nanotechnology Task Force. (You can read the text of ETC Groups presentation here.)
News & blogs
Nano-Drug's Dirty Little Secret
On September 12 just days before Mexico celebrates its Independence Day ETC Group and several Mexican organizations held a press conference in Mexico City and declared the traditional Cry of Independence, but this time for the genetic independence of Mexican maize. It has been over five years since DNA from genetically modified maize contaminated native maize varieties in Mexico.
The Economist this week has a Special Report on Synthetic Biology , the new field of building artificial life forms from scratch. As is to be expected from the Economist, this is a fairly upbeat assesment of the technology that fails to mention the growing opposition to Synthetic Biology, signalled a few months ago when almost forty civil society groups, trade unions and scientific associations signed an open letter calling for caution.
Here at ETC we have been busy writing our own special report on Synthetic Biology (which we are calling 'Extreme Genetic Engineering' - watch this space!). You can expect it to be a bit more critical than the Economist.
In a quest to expand its corporate seed empire - Monsanto, the world's largest seed enterprise - announced yesterday that it will buy the world's leading cotton seed company, Mississippi-based (USA) Delta & Pine Land, for US$1.5 billion. Monsanto and Delta & Pine Land (D&PL) together account for over 57% of the US cotton seed market. With D&PL subsidiaries in 13 countries - including major markets such as China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and Pakistan - the takeover means that Monsanto will command a dominant position in one of the world's most important agricultural trade commodities and that millions of cotton farmers will be under increased pressure to accept genetically modified (GM) cottonseed.
The biotech company Ventria Biosciences sponsored tests, on babies and children hospitalized at two pediatric institutes in Peru, of two new experimental drugs derived from transgenic rice that was genetically engineered with synthetic human genes to produce artificial human milk proteins.
Two World Bank projects, with funding from the GEF (Global Environmental Facility), propose to introduce genetically modified crops such as maize, potatoes, cassava, rice and cotton into five Latin American and four African countries that are centers of origin or diversity for these and other major food crops. Civil society organizations warn that DNA contamination from genetically modified crops poses an unacceptable risk to stable crops that are the basis of peasant economies in these regions. The multi-million dollar projects are being promoted under the guise of scientific biosafety research, but civil society organizations on both continents are calling for their immediate rejection because they threaten food sovereignty and farmer-controlled seed systems.
Synthetic biology (the attempt to create artificial living organisms) should be self-regulated say scientists at Berkeley assembly. Civil Society organizations say "No!"
"If biologists are indeed on the threshold of synthesizing new life forms, the scope for abuse or inadvertent disaster could be huge." Nature, October 2004
Scientists working at the interface of engineering and biology - in the new field of "synthetic biology" - worry that public distrust of biotechnology could impede their research or draw attention to regulatory chasms. Synthetic biologists are trying to design and construct artificial living systems to perform specific tasks, such as producing pharmaceutical compounds or energy. In October 2004, the journal Nature warned, "if biologists are indeed on the threshold of synthesizing new life forms, the scope for abuse or inadvertent disaster could be huge." An editorial in that same issue suggested that there may be a need for an "Asilomar"-type conference on synthetic biology. In light of these concerns, scientists gathering at "Synthetic Biology 2.0" (May 20-22, 2006) at the University of California-Berkeley hope to make "significant progress" toward a "code of ethics and standards." Their actions are intended to project the message that the synthetic biologists are being pro-active and capable of governing themselves as a "community." In their view, self-governance is the best way forward to safely reap the benefits (both societal and financial) of synthetic biology. Civil Society organizations disagree.
A coalition of thirty-eight international organizations including scientists, environmentalists, trade unionists, biowarfare experts and social justice advocates called for inclusive public debate, regulation and oversight of the rapidly advancing field of synthetic biology - the construction of unique and novel artificial life forms to perform specific tasks. Synthetic biologists are meeting this weekend in Berkeley, California where they plan to announce a voluntary code of self-regulation for their work (1). The organizations signing the Open Letter are calling on synthetic biologists to abandon their proposals for self-governance and to engage in an inclusive process of global societal debate on the implications of their work (see attached Open Letter).
The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches issued a strong condemnation of Terminator seeds and called on churches and ecumenical partners to take action to stop the technology. The Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia warned that sterile seed technology would increase economic injustice all over the world.