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.

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?

17.06.2019 |

New GMOs: Coming to your dinner plate soon?

Did you think GM crops and foods had pretty much gone away in Europe? Now they’re set to return.

If lobbyists get their way, new genetically modified (GM) crops, foods, and farm animals will appear in our fields and on our dinner plates – with few or no safety checks and no labelling.

These new GM crops and foods are produced with so-called gene-editing techniques. Gene-edited organisms already developed include super-muscled pigs (similar to the one in the image above), a non-browning mushroom, and a soybean that produces altered fats.

GMO companies are also planning to market a new generation of gene-edited herbicide-tolerant crops, including wheat. These plants are engineered to survive being sprayed with large amounts of toxic herbicides, such as those based on glyphosate.

Gene-editing techniques are often called “New Breeding Techniques” (NBTs). But they are not breeding techniques. They are artificial laboratory GM techniques that result in the production of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

12.06.2019 |

Patent applications covering ‘seeds to meat’ and from ‘maize to milk’

Patent on salmon and trout is not just an isolated case

12 June 2019 / The patent granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) covering salmon and trout reared on specific plants (EP1965658) could now become a precedent for many other patent applications. Recent research shows several similar European patent applications are already pending, claiming food products, such as meat and milk, derived from animals fed with selected plants.

The patent on salmon and trout was granted in October 2018 and recently brought to public attention by “No Patents on Seeds!”. The patent monopoly covers the rearing and feeding of the fish, along with the fish itself. After learning of this case, No Patents on Seeds! researched similar patent applications. This research came to an alarming conclusion: there are several other European patent applications recently filed at the World Patent Institute (WIPO), all following a similar strategy. Starting with plants and feed, also the food products derived from farm animals are claimed as inventions.

For example, Syngenta not only claims genetically engineered maize as its ‘invention’ but also the production of milk and meat from animals fed with such plants: In patent WO2018204245, “a harvested cattle carcass” is part of the invention; and patent WO2019075028 claims a “method of increasing the amount of milk produced by a dairy animal”. While these patents rely on transgenic maize, others such as the patent on salmon also claim usage of conventionally bred plants.

11.06.2019 |

First Canadian case of insect resistance to GM Bt corn discovered

Farmers in Nova Scotia have found that the European corn borer has developed resistance to the GM trait designed to kill it

In Nova Scotia, corn farmers are observing that the European corn borer, an insect pest, has developed resistance to the genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) trait designed to kill it.

This is the first report in the world of the European corn borer (ECB) developing resistance to a genetically engineered trait used to confer insect resistance. It is also the first report in Canada of any insect pest developing resistance to a genetically engineered trait. The development of resistance in other insect pests targeted by Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) traits in corn has been observed in the US, South Africa and Brazil. Additionally, in the US and other countries, some cotton pests have also developed resistance to Bt cotton traits.

“This is an important reminder that nature can adapt to and overcome genetically engineered traits,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

The Canadian Corn Pest Coalition reported that some ECB populations have developed resistance to the Cry1F protein, which is one of at least eight genetically engineered Bt proteins used in Canada in genetically engineered insect-resistant corn.

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