October 08, 2008

The Last Straw?

As Extreme Genetic Engineers Gather in Hong Kong, Critics Warn of Corporate Grab on Plant Life: SynBio 4.0 = SynBio-4-profit

Synthetic biologists, a brave new breed of science entrepreneurs who engineer life-forms from scratch, will hold their largest-ever global gathering in Hong Kong, October 10-12 2008, known as "Synthetic Biology 4.0." Although most people have never heard of synthetic biology, it's moving full speed ahead fueled by giant agribusiness, energy and chemical corporations with little debate about who will control the technology, how it will be regulated (or not) and despite grave concerns surrounding the safety and security risks of designer organisms. Corporate investors/partners include BP, Chevron, Shell, Virgin Fuels, DuPont, Microsoft, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland.

"SynBio 4.0 sounds like a convention for science geeks, but the real agenda is SynBio-4-profit," said Pat Mooney of ETC Group. Mooney will lead a panel discussion at the Hong Kong meeting featuring civil society activists who will raise broader concerns about the technology. The panel, "Global Social Impact," is scheduled Saturday morning, 11 October, 10:30-12:00.

A new 12-page report from ETC Group, "Commodifying Nature's Last Straw? Extreme Genetic Engineering and the Post-Petroleum Sugar Economy," warns that corporate biorefineries fueled by plant sugars will create a massive demand for agricultural feedstocks, which threatens to devastate marginalized farming communities, deplete soil and water, and destroy biodiversity. 

"Bankrolled by Fortune 500 corporations, synthetic biologists meeting in Hong Kong are promising a green, clean post-petroleum future where the production of economically important compounds depends not on fossil fuels - but on biological manufacturing platforms fueled by plant sugars," explains Jim Thomas of ETC Group. "It may sound sweet and clean, but this so-called sugar economy will catalyze an unprecedented corporate grab on all plant matter as well as destruction of biodiversity on a massive scale," warns Thomas, who also speaks Saturday on the panel.

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