Call for moratorium on gene drives from UN conference
by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)
From 17 to 29 November, the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will meet in Egypt. Decisions on how to deal with gene drives are also on the agenda. Although it mentions the precautionary principle, possible risks and their assessment, there is no provision for a moratorium. Leading representatives of the global agricultural movement have therefore called for such a stop to all releases of gene drives.
Gene drives are manipulations of the genetic material through which a certain, previously genetically engineered trait is inherited dominantly in plants or animals and thus spreads particularly quickly in a population. The process could eradicate species and undermine sustainable and fair agriculture, according to a call signed by numerous representatives of agricultural and development organisations. They call for a worldwide moratorium on the release of gene drives, based on the precautionary principle.
In parallel, a report published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Canadian environmental organisation ETC Group provides information on the state of research and the possible dangers of Gene Drives. He makes it clear that the developments are not limited to mosquitoes, which repeatedly appear as examples in the media. Scientists also want to equip fruit flies, grasshoppers, plant-sucking beetle species and other pests with gene drives to combat wild populations. Rats and mice are also already research objects for gene drives, as are pigs. The method is intended to help them anchor genetic modifications more quickly in breeding. The report points out that pests also play an important role in ecosystems and that their extinction can have unforeseeable consequences for the system. In addition, the genetic modifications released by the Gene Drive could lead to unexpected side effects and cannot be reversed. The authors of the report therefore not only call for a ban on all releases of gene drives, but also recommend that all research be suspended for the time being. First of all, there needs to be a broad social debate about this technology and clear regulations on how to deal with it.