07.12.2018 |

Gene drive symposium

Interdisciplinary symposium on gene drives with a focus on their scientific, ethical, socio-economic and regulatory aspects

FRIDAY 24 MAY 2019

9:00―17:00 Eventforum Bern Fabrikstrasse 12

3012 Bern, Switzerland

The idea of circumventing the rules of inheritance in order to quickly spread and maintain desired traits through an entire population or species, has long existed. With new genetic engineering techniques for genome editing, such as CRISPR-Cas9, it may soon be possible to turn this idea into reality. It has been claimed that gene drive technology may be used to combat infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue or zika, as well as to reduce the threat posed by agricultural pests and ecologically harmful invasive species. However, a crucial difference with conventional gene technology is that gene drives intentionally target wild populations in order to permanently alter them.

Gene drives are a technology that raises fundamental ecological, social, ethical, and legal questions:

* Which path do we want to take as a society?

* Is it a good idea to seek to irreversibly alter ecosystems in the age of mass extinctions?

* Are there dispensable species?

* Are the promised goals achievable?

* Who gets to decide?

* What environmental implications could we face if we were to eliminate populations or species using gene drives?

* What are the consequences of making such attempts if they are unsuccessful?

* Who is responsible when things go wrong with a technology that potentially crosses borders?

* Are the appropriate regulations in place?

A working group of international scientists and philosophers has extensively considered these questions. The outcome of this process will be presented for discussion at the Gene Drive Symposium.

SPEAKERS

Lim Li Ching, Third World Network

Christopher Preston, University of Montana

Ricarda Steinbrecher, Federation of German Scientists (VDW)

Helen Wallace, GeneWatch UK

PANEL DISCUSSION

Kevin Esvelt, MIT Media Lab

Ignacio Chapela, University of California, Berkeley

PANEL MODERATION

Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Honorary president, Club of Rome

More information at: https://genedrives.ch

European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility

04.12.2018 |

Tanzania Ban Genetically Modified Crop Trials

On November 21st, 2018, the Ministry of Agricultural of Tanzania has instructed the Tanzania Institute for Agricultural Research (TARI) to terminate Genetic Modified Organism-GMOs at its research centers.

In addition, it has ordered TARI to destroy with all remainders of the experiments on GMOs.

The action was taken after the Institute began to disseminate the results of its researches on GMOs without obtaining government approval.

Tanzania has been carrying out GM seeds confined field trials for maize in Makutopora in Dodoma Region and for cassava at the Mikocheni Agriculture Research Institute in Dar es Salaam.

29.11.2018 |

United Nations Hits the Brakes on Gene Drives

Landmark Convention on Biological Diversity decision calls on governments to conduct strict risk assessments and seek indigenous and local peoples’ consent ahead of potential release of ‘exterminator’ technology.

29 November 2018, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt: Today, the UN has made a significant global decision on how to govern a high-risk, new genetic engineering technology – gene drives.

‘This important decision puts controls on gene drives using simple common sense principles: Don’t mess with someone else’s environment, territories and rights without their consent,’ explains Jim Thomas, Co-Executive Director of the ETC Group. ‘Gene drives are currently being pursued by powerful military and agribusiness interests and a few wealthy individuals. 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’.

The Convention on Biological Diversity decision also requires that, before an environmental gene drive release, a thorough risk assessment is carried out. With most countries lacking a regulatory system for the technology, it requires that new safety measures are put in place to prevent potential adverse effects. The decision acknowledges that more studies and research on impacts of gene drives are needed to develop guidelines to assess gene drive organisms before they are considered for release.

27.11.2018 |

S&Ds back enhanced EU risk assessment to avoid harmful pesticides in the food chain

Socialists and Democrats have been at the forefront in the fight against harmful pesticides, such as those containing glyphosate, and have pushed for a strict and independent European system to exclude any dangerous substance from the food chain.

That is why today the S&Ds in the environment and health committee backed a report which aims to cover the whole agri-food chain, to ensure the independence of the authorisation process as well as public availability of studies submitted by the industry and used by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) in the risk assessment.

S&D spokesperson on environment and health, Miriam Dalli, said:

“Our group took very seriously citizens’ concerns on harmful substances. We supported the Citizens’ Initiative on Glyphosate and we want to have a better system to evaluate pesticides than the one in place now.

"The risk assessment process must be more transparent, and we demand additional guarantees of reliability, objectivity and independence of the studies used by EFSA.

“All studies and supporting information submitted to EFSA for risk assessments should be made public and easily accessible to the public on the EFSA website."

26.11.2018 |

Meet the Modern Farmer: William Woys Weaver, Roughwood Seed Collection

He’s keeping heirloom vegetables alive.

(.....)

For a long time, William Woys Weaver thought that everyone’s grandfather collected seeds. “I just continued what my family had been doing all along,” he says. Weaver’s grandfather began the Roughwood Seed Collection in 1932 and grew it all his life. Today, his collection is not only the oldest collection of seeds in Pennsylvania but also the largest private holding of Native American food plants anywhere.

Stored on bookshelves in a dark archive room are hundreds of feet of tiny, carefully categorized seeds — and not just any seeds but special, very old ones. Weaver doesn’t just have a seed for corn; he has seeds for Oneida corn flour, one of the oldest and finest Native American flours that was used to feed George Washington’s starving army in the 18th century. He doesn’t just have russet potato seeds; he has about 100 varieties of potatoes, including a rare potato from Scotland that has red, white and blue patches on its skin.

“If we lose these seeds, we lose control of our own food supply, which was the situation for medieval serfs,” says Weaver. Most of the food we eat today — even much of the food grown in our own gardens — comes from seeds that have been genetically modified over time. On its own, that isn’t a bad thing. Take the watermelon, for example. Watermelons were heavily crossbred in the 20th century to make them easier to sell. At first, they were crossbred to be more resistant to pests, which also made them a little mealier. Then they had too many seeds, which could be crossbred out. They also kept breaking on trains, so they needed thicker rinds. The watermelon we have today is perfectly bred for transportation and mass consumption, but it wasn’t modified for taste.

26.11.2018 |

KAP resolution says keep glyphosate-tolerant wheat out

Monsanto shelved Roundup Ready wheat in 2004 but its spectre still haunts some Manitoba farmers.

Delegates attending the Keystone Agriculture Producers’ (KAP) advisory council meeting here Nov. 12 passed a resolution for KAP to lobby the federal government to “disallow the testing, funding, importation and introduction of glyphosate-tolerant wheat in Canada.”

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) June announcement that a few wheat plants genetically modified (GM) to tolerate glyphosate were discovered in a ditch in Alberta prompted the resolution from KAP’s District 3, Starbuck farmer Doug Livingston explained when moving the resolution.

23.11.2018 |

Tanzania orders destruction of Monsanto/Gates’ GM trials due to illegal use for pro-GM propaganda

Dar es Salaam 23 November 2018

Tanzanian civil society organisations (CSOs) welcome the decision of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Mathew Mtigumwe, to bring an immediate stop to all ongoing GM field trials taking place in the country. These are under the auspices of the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project which includes Monsanto, the Gates Foundation and national research centres. This decision has since been verified by the newly appointed Minister of Agriculture, Japheth Hasunga in latest media reports.

In a report issued by the Ministry, the Permanent Secretary ordered, with immediate effect, the cessation of all field trial operations and the destruction of all “the remnants” of the trials at the Makutupora Centre in Dodoma, where trials were taking place. This decision has come after the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (TARI) released the results of the trials without the necessary authorisation, when it invited certain members of the public, including the well-known pro GM lobbyist, Mark Lynas, to witness how ‘well’ the GM crops were performing. TARI also hosted a recent excursion to the trial site by the Parliamentary Committee on Food and Agriculture.

07.11.2018 |

Baysanto “patent on severed broccoli” revoked

Success for coalition against patents on seeds

7.11.2018 / The European Patent Office (EPO) has revoked patent EP1597965 covering traditionally bred broccoli. The plants are supposed to grow a little bit higher so that they can be harvested more easily. The patent was granted in 2013 to Monsanto, which has meanwhile been bought up by Bayer. The revocation follows an opposition filed in 2014 by a broad coalition of organizations.

The decision of the EPO is based upon new rules for the examination of patents adopted in 2017. Accordingly, patents on plants and animals can no longer be granted if they are derived from conventional breeding using methods like crossing and selection. It is the first time that these new rules have resulted in the revocation of a patent. However, there is still some legal uncertainty: just recently, in October 2018, the EPO rejected oppositions against patents held by the Carlsberg & Heineken breweries on conventionally bred barley.

“This is an important success for the broad coalition of civil society organizations against patents on plants and animals. Without our activities, the EPO rules would not have been changed and the patent would still be valid. The giant corporations, such as Bayer, Syngenta and BASF, have failed in their attempt to completely monopolize conventional breeding through using patents,” says Christoph Then for No Patents on Seeds!. “But there are still huge legal loopholes as shown in the case of conventionally bred barley. Political decision makers now have to take further action.”

01.11.2018 |

Planting the Seeds of Indigenous Food Sovereignty |

I want to stress that we have no idea what we are doing.

So says ‘Cúagilákv Jessie Housty, a self-described “community agitator, mother, land-based educator, indigenist, [and] unapologetically Haíłzaqv” woman—who promptly displays all the hallmarks of someone who knows exactly what she is doing.

What Housty is doing, in a remote corner of British Columbia, Canada, is agitating, mothering, educating, and staking the ground of her traditional territory. She is a young Indigenous woman, who, with the help of her friends and family, is feeding the growth of her culture and her community.

Which is another way to say she’s gardening.

(.....)

Housty is thrilled that the learnings from K̓vi’aí are translating back to the larger year-round community of Bella Bella (population 1,300). There, she and her team have planted a community garden right beside the dock at the main entrance to the village. Numbered beds help band members identify what’s what as they help themselves to the seasonal spoils. At the same time, she and her team routinely deliver fresh produce to homes of community elders. Village classrooms plant seeds and give the seedlings away to a growing number of families starting their own gardens.

30.10.2018 |

Bad spud: GMO potato creator now fears its impact on human health

New book, Pandora’s Potatoes, describes genetic engineer’s work to develop the Innate genetically modified potato and his misgivings about that work

Of all the genetic engineers who have renounced the technology—Arpad Pusztai, Belinda Martineau, Thierry Vrain, and John Fagan, among others—because of its shortsighted approach and ability to produce unintended and potentially toxic consequences, Caius Rommens’ story may be the most compelling. Rommens was director of research at Simplot Plant Sciences from 2000 to 2013 where he led development of the company’s genetically engineered Innate potato. But over time, Rommens started to have serious doubts about his work and worried about potential health risks from eating the GMO potatoes, which are now sold in 4,000 supermarkets in the U.S.

Rommens’ concerns about the GMO potato led him to write a book, Pandora’s Potatoes, which was recently published. The book is a case study on how a scientist’s initial enthusiasm about genetic engineering turns to doubt and fear as he realizes the hazards the technology can create.

I recently interviewed Caius Rommens about his work developing the GMO potato and the misgivings he now has about it.

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